- The Washington Times - Friday, December 1, 2000

Retirees to the rescue

The Army is so short on helicopter pilots it has sent a memo out to units telling them how to recall retired aviators to active duty and put them back in the cockpit.

"The purpose of this message is to provide policy and implementation guidance for recall to active duty available to retired commissioned and warrant officers who are qualified aviators," states a November memo from Army headquarters. The message, a copy of which we obtained, goes on to explain which ranks will be accepted as long as the person retired no later than Oct. 1, 1995. No one older than 62 need apply.

The aviator shortages come on top of another problem bedeviling Army aviation. Its fleet of attack, scout and transport helicopters is aging rapidly in the mission-crazy 1990s.

"If people are not convinced that Army aviation is in a crisis, the memo is evidence of the exodus of Army aviators from active duty service over the last few years," said one pilot, who asked not to be named. "They can't wait to get out and find another job. The ones that are staying, I dare say, would by a large percentage jump ship if they were offered a competitive salary."

The Army had no immediate comment yesterday.

Pentagon vote woes

The Pentagon inspector general is investigating problems with military absentee ballots following the Democrats' concerted effort in Florida to nullify hundreds of military votes most cast for Gov. George W. Bush.

One place under scrutiny is the Department of Defense Federal Voting Assistance Program, which for many years was run by a senior Pentagon civilian. The office now is directed by Polli Brunelli. She declined to comment last week.

Every four years coinciding with presidential elections, the office issues a half-inch-thick manual that explains the requirements for military service members to vote in every state and U.S. territory. It also gives instructions to each of the military commands' voting officers to help them assist military voters.

We are told by Pentagon officials that overseas ballots lacking a postmark (and thus verification they were mailed before an election) is not a new mistake. It should have been addressed by the voting office sooner, the officials said.

"It appears that either there may not have been any such after-action dialogue with the states and territories or that this office failed their military customers in some other way," said one official. "This could and should be considered negligent."

Word is that the senior civilian who headed the Voting Office retired and that his deputy took over and "had problems" running the office.

"This seems to be a gross failure by the DoD to support the nation's sons and daughters who volunteer to go around the world to maintain our freedom," our informant said. "They should not be allowed to minimize this or to say it is a failure of the system and not of any particular person or office."

Democratic lawyers in Florida succeeded in nullifying scores of military ballots, some of which lacked a stamped postmark. Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said this week the problem may stem from the fact that ballots are sent postage-free and thus do not get stamped.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen has ordered the inspector general to evaluate the entire overseas balloting system and make recommendations to improve it.

Missile defense office

The Clinton administration's aversion to missile defense has been reported extensively in this column.

During the early part of the administration, the White House clashed repeatedly with the Pentagon over efforts by arms controllers to limit emerging U.S. missile defenses in talks with the Russians aimed at expanding the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

Then, despite growing missile threats, President Clinton in September rejected deployment of a national missile defense against long-range missile strikes. He based his decision on developmental problems and opposition from Russia and China.

Now, in the administration's final days, the Pentagon realized it needs a dedicated missile defense policy office, prompting numerous backers of the efforts to question what took so long.

John Harvey, a deputy assistant defense secretary, announced the new Office of Missile Defense Policy in a Nov. 3 memo. "Over the past several years," he wrote, "policy issues relating to missile defense have been a significant and increasing focus of activity within the Department of Defense, including in [office of the undersecretary of defense for policy]. This trend will continue with ongoing development and potential deployment of a national missile defense, together with increased interaction on missile defenses with NATO and Asian allies, Russia and other countries."

The new office, the memo says, will focus on "policy oversight, approval and coordination of matters related to missile defense in support of presidential guidance, national security policies and departmental policies, directives and relevant military plans." The new director is Peppi DeBiaso, currently in the office of strategy and threat reduction.

Disclosure of the memorandum led one U.S. government official, a critic of Clinton administration missile defense policies, to note: "It took them eight years to finally make up their minds, but I'm glad policy on missile defense will now be made in the Pentagon instead of in the Kremlin."

Women in combat

The Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS) riled up Navy submariners last year. The Pentagon advisory group proposed the silent service break the all-male barrier by letting women officers serve on ballistic missile subs. The submarine community saw the recommendation as a foot-in-the-door maneuver to eventually open all submarines to women.

Now, the latest "working copy" of a pending DACOWITS report calls on the services to justify the department's ban on women in land combat.

The committee wants documents on how the policy is being enforced, any studies on women operating in a combat environment and "interpretation of the rule, especially as to how decisions are made to exclude women from positions and units."

DACOWITS, a group of civilians of both sexes, adds:

"U.S. military missions conducted throughout the world demonstrate that women have been exposed to hostile fire and to a high probability of direct physical contact with hostile force personnel while performing their duties. The direct ground combat exclusion rule impacts/restricts the career and promotional opportunities for women and could negatively impact readiness by precluding the services' use of qualified personnel.

"DACOWITS needs to be informed and to evaluate whether the direct ground combat exclusion rule and its current implementation remains compatible, consistent and appropriate to the strategies, the exigencies and needs of the U.S. military."

• Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are syndicated columnists. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at [email protected] Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at [email protected]

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