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LYONS: Restoring military readiness

A professional fighting force, not diversity, must be the military’s priority

- - Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The impact of fighting two wars over the past decade has taken its toll on our military forces. They have been run hard and put away wet. Sequestration has only compounded the problem. Our military services are already reeling from previously approved $800 billion in defense cuts over the next decade and are now faced with $500 billion in additional budget cuts now that sequestration has been implemented.

All this means that we will have the smallest Army since prior to World War II. The Navy, with its anemic shipbuilding program, will most likely be left with the smallest fleet since prior to World War I. The U.S. Air Force will suffer a similar adverse impact. Selected aircraft squadrons from both the Air Force and the Navy have been ordered to stand down and not fly. It will take several months to restore their readiness.

Symbolic of the Navy's demise are the five aircraft carriers that are currently moored at piers at the Norfolk Naval Base in Virginia for lack of operating and overhaul funds. Clearly, with the escalating civil war in Syria, one carrier battle group should be immediately deployed to the Mediterranean. Such a deployment would dramatically change the strategic equation and counter Russia's deployment of 11 ships currently there.

The Obama administration's draconian budget cuts are being made at a time when global instability is increasing. The Middle East continues in a state of turmoil, particularly with the ongoing civil war in Syria. However, the most destabilizing factor in the Middle East would be for Iran to achieve a nuclear-weapon capability. With China and North Korea's help, they may now have all the necessary elements. In the Pacific, China continues with its massive military buildup. Its cyberwarfare attacks and penetration of our military-industrial complex has, at a minimum, reduced our technology advantage in any future confrontation. This is most serious since our technological advantage was always our force-multiplier.

The one constant that made our military the finest fighting force in the world was the dedication and professionalism of our personnel — our national treasure. The troops took pride in being recognized as the "best and brightest." It made for high morale and solid unit cohesion. Professionalism was their No. 1 priority. Now with President Obama's social engineering of our military forces, "diversity" has become the No. 1 priority. It is hard to comprehend how the promotion of the homosexual and feminist agendas contributes to unit integrity or improves combat readiness. Why, then, are these disruptive agendas being forced on our military, particularly when we are being challenged throughout the world? Fulfilling a political agenda is insufficient rationale to deliberately weaken our military forces and national security.

As he was tiptoeing out of the Pentagon, former Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta made his ill-advised and irresponsible endorsement of eliminating military women's exemption from direct land combat battalions. Thirty years of studies and reports in the United States and the United Kingdom have provided more than sufficient empirical data that men and women are not physical equals nor interchangeable in all roles. There is no other nation in the world with a military force comparable to ours that assigns women in direct combat infantry land wars.

When the U.S. Marines conducted an online survey of active-duty personnel in 2012, it failed to show support for women in direct ground combat units. Regrettably, never asked was how would women assigned to infantry and special operations forces affect mission effectiveness? Research done by the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces, which studied the issue in depth in 1992, determined that a "voluntary" option for women to engage in close combat, but not for men, would not work. In a direct combat environment, women do not have an equal opportunity to survive, or worse, would end up causing fatalities to fellow troops.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff stated that women's exemption from direct ground combat missions somehow has contributed to the current rise in the sexual abuse we see in our military forces today. This makes no sense. Women are closer to combat today than ever before, but the rates of sexual assault and abuse are soaring with no end in sight.

The rescinding of the Clinton "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy has come at a price. In Volume II of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office report, there is no change in "unwanted sexual contact" for women (32 percent in both 2010 and 2012), but an increase among men reporting "unwanted touching" from 31 percent in 2010 to 57 percent in 2012. It certainly calls into question the Department of Defense's claims that repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy has been a complete success.

What's most disturbing is the apparent acquiescence to these ill-conceived policies by our top military leadership. In life-and-death situations, you must have the first team in place. Mandates for diversity metrics are no substitute for proven combat effectiveness when engaging the enemy.

Our combat readiness in today's world must be our first priority. Since our top military leadership is complicit in the administration's social engineering of our military, Congress must exercise its constitutional responsibility to "provide for the common defense" and make policy for the armed forces. As a first order of business, Congress should reinstate the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

Retired Adm. James A. Lyons was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.