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Republicans appear cool toward making a change, in the aftermath of losing a heated debate on allowing gays to serve openly, a promise President Obama made in the 2008 presidential campaign.

“This is the last thing the military should be thinking about,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter, a member of the House Armed Services Committee who saw combat in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine officer.

“Our military is engaged in a shooting war,” the California Republican added. “This is just another distraction that can’t interfere with what’s most important — winning in Afghanistan. Some people seem to think the military is a staging ground for social testing, and that attitude only puts lives at risk.”

Spokesmen for several senior committee Republicans did not respond to questions.

There is an indication that the Senate Armed Services Committee will write language about women in combat when it produces a defense budget and policy bill this spring.

Bryan Thomas, spokesman for Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, said, “Sen. Levin has not made a public statement about the recommendation and likely will not, as it is an issue that may be addressed in the National Defense Authorization Act.”

The 31-member diversity commission was set up by the Democrat-controlled Congress more than a year ago. The panel contained a sizable number of civilian equal-opportunity professionals, as well as retired and active military personnel.

Its report calls on the Pentagon to elevate diversity to an unprecedented level among national security priorities. It warns that as the white population decreases and the Hispanic numbers increase as a share of population, the military is in danger of not looking like America.

“The armed forces have not yet succeeded in developing a continuing stream of leaders who are as demographically diverse as the nation they serve,” the report says.

The commission wants the defense secretary to appoint a diversity czar who reports directly to him. At confirmations, all senior officer nominees must show the Senate Armed Services Committee that they have a rich background in promoting diversity, it said.

The commission, led by retired Air Force Gen. Lester Lyles and retired Army Lt. Gen. Julius Becton, did not take a roll-call vote of its recommendations, including the one on women in combat. Instead, it wrote recommendations based on consensus. Not all members supported the women in combat proposal, but the panel’s transcripts make it difficult to discern who opposed it.

At a December meeting when the combat recommendation was written, Lt. Gen. Robert Neller, the top Marine on the panel, said, “I’m still struggling with this, and I don’t mean to be difficult.”

Earlier that year, then-Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway, now retired, made it clear that he, and female Marines, did not want a change.

“I don’t think you will see a change because I don’t think our women want it to change,” he testified.

“There are certain demands of officers in a combat arms environment that our women see, recognize, appreciate, and say, ‘I couldn’t do that. In fact, I don’t want to do that because I don’t think it best prepares me for success if I am trying to do those things against the male population at lieutenant, captain, major and lieutenant colonel [ranks].’”

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