- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 6, 2000

The all-male Green Berets are up in arms over a proposal to allow women to train as combat medics.

A top Army physician at its Special Operations Command proposed allowing female soldiers to enter combat medics training, touching off fears among Green Berets that the change could one day lead to female commandos.

The doctor's proposal triggered an angry letter from a course instructor.

"I need some help with what I see as a potential blow to the readiness and combat effectiveness of further special forces and Ranger medics, Navy Seal and Recon corpsmen," he wrote to two U.S. senators in Washington.

A copy of the letter, minus the medic's name, was provided to The Washington Times.

A senior officer at Fort Bragg, N.C., headquarters to Special Forces and the vaunted Delta Force anti-terrorism team, overruled the surgeon. But the Green Berets fear the debate will resonate north to Washington, where women's advocates will use the doctor's proposal to lobby for the change.

Col. Warner D. Farr, a former enlisted medic and now the command's surgeon, submitted an official request to delete the male-only designation for the Special Forces medic's course several weeks ago.

Special Forces units are closed to women as are all land combat jobs. The female students who might enter the course would come from the command's 528th Special Operations Support Battalion, a supply outfit. It includes noncombat female medics. Commandos opposed to women in combat feared that the women could evade the combat exclusion on a "technicality" since they are part of the command.

Commandos hope Maj. Gen. William Boykin, who headed Delta Force when its members engaged in the 1993 shootout in Somalia, has quashed the debate by overruling Col. Farr. Gen. Boykin heads the command's John F. Kennedy Warfare Center and School, which oversees Special Forces medic training.

In a statement to The Times from its public affairs office, the command said the doctor's proposal never got above the staff level.

"In a close review of [command] directive and applicable regulations, it was determined that the change recommended … is not needed. [The command] will follow current policy in determining who attends the [course]. The statement added, "The SO combat medic course is a joint course designed for interoperability among combat forces such as Rangers, special forces, Seals; and by law those combat elements are closed to women."

But Green Berets remain concerned. They fear that the Pentagon's Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services will use the debate at Fort Bragg to urge Defense Secretary William S. Cohen to open combat medics' training to women. The committee already is pressing the Navy to let women serve on submarines and the Army to allow women to join certain artillery units.

The 24-week medics course is a demanding test, as specially selected medics are transformed into special operations troops as tough as the warriors they treat.

The medic, in his letter to two senators, wrote:

"This is a combat medic course. During this course, students are trained to handle casualties under austere conditions and while in close proximity to the enemy. They are even trained to provide 'care under fire' for casualties. During the training, candidates willfully expose their patients enabling compete physical exams. They also perform several medical procedures on completely nude patients.

"They also perform many physically rigorous tasks. Students carry simulated combat loads… . This includes rucksack and weapon. At times these weights exceed 100 pounds… . The students will also carry a casualty in a jungle litter several kilometers, at night, through the woods, with complete combat load. If you ask any of my former students, they will tell you this is a real smoker and many were barely able to do it… . Keep in mind these are men that have passed the Ranger School, Seal and special forces assessment and selection programs, some of the toughest training in the military."

The medic instructor sent the letter to his two home-state senators, Rick Santorum and Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republicans. A spokesman for Mr. Santorum said the letter was referred to a Senate Armed Services subcommittee and to the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Fla.

Roger Charles, a former Marine Corps officer and member of a group named Soldiers for the Truth, called it "lunacy" to bring women into Special Forces medic training.

"This is so stupid, it makes me want to both cry and laugh," said Mr. Charles, whose group believes the military is losing its warrior spirit. "It's a deadly serious issue, being treated as just another incremental advance for gender equality on the battlefield by the 'PC' crowd, who, by the way, don't have a clue about what it means to have to carry/drag a wounded Marine/ soldier while under fire from multiple machine guns."

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