- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 24, 2001

American female pilots are dropping bombs on Afghanistan, but when it comes to boots on the ground, they are barred by law from joining special-operations missions to kill terrorists.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said commandos will play a big role in eliminating al Qaeda in Afghanistan and other terror networks around the world. But in the special "ops" community, women are restricted to two noncombat specialties.
"Women are not allowed in combat arms," said Col. Bill Darley, spokesman for U.S. Special Operations Command, which is supporting operations in Afghanistan. "We've got lots of women. There are tons of women in SOF, but they are in civil affairs and psyops [psychological warfare]. There are none in combat arms."
Said an Army officer: "I have worked with women in a covert mode that were great. They were as devious as anyone else, and some were cold-blooded killers. But, on average, men are better suited to the job. But a cold-blooded woman does have the advantage of access and placement. The problem is that they stand out in the Muslim world and are afforded inferior status there."
The same federal law that bans women from ground combat jobs such as infantry and field artillery also applies to covert warriors. The Rangers, Green Berets and Delta Force troops who infiltrated Afghanistan this past week belonged to all-male units.
Special-operation forces also ban female aviators from piloting their Black Hawks and other helicopters. This is a break from the conventional combat branches, which allow female combat pilots.
A Defense Department advisory committee has pushed the Pentagon to change this rule. But the department has refused, saying in a letter, "There is public reluctance for women to be in positions involving direct (hand-to-hand ground) combat. Most women would not meet the physical qualifications for some rigorous career fields (Rangers, Seals, Special Forces) or the physical requirements for close-in, hand-to-hand combat in other career fields."
The Navy, Air Force and Army allow women to fly bombers, fighters and helicopter gunships under a policy approved by President Clinton. He retained, however, the ban on direct land combat. Defense officials said yesterday there were no plans to move that line.
Since the change in 1994, a Pentagon panel, the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS), has urged the defense secretary to change the rule so women may operate long-range artillery and fly special-operations helicopters. But each time, the answer comes back "no." The rejection is based on the doctrine that special-operations aviators may have to take part in what the community calls "direct action" attacking and killing the enemy.
DACOWITS, a mostly female panel of 33 members, is not impressed.
"There is insufficient evidence that special operations forces rotary wing aviation crews 'collocate' [place together] with units involved in direct ground combat," the committee wrote in a unanimous recommendation. "Generally, SOF aviators have the potential to be exposed to contact with the enemy on the ground only when the mission fails."
Gen. Charles R. Holland, who heads U.S. Special Operations Command and plays a key role in executing the current campaign in Afghanistan, has headed off DACOWITS' maneuver. The four-star general wrote a letter to personnel officials stating, "The command does not concur with the conclusions of DACOWITS. SOF rotary wing aviation crews are doctrinally required to collocate with ground combat units during many SOF mission profiles. Direct action has always been a primary mission of SOF, and contrary to the DACOWITS assertion, involves direct ground combat."
Military women in conventional warfare have flown combat missions since the mid-1990s. They have released bombs over Iraq and Kosovo, and enforced no-fly zones north and south of Baghdad.
The Navy, after unleashing a post-Tailhook-scandal media blitz to announce the first female combat pilots, today downplays the sex significance, as do the women themselves.
"I've never thought that it was a big deal that I was an aviator. I just go out there and do my job," says Lt. j.g. Sara, who has flown attack missions over Afghanistan from the carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.
"I don't like to see women singled out," Lt. Sara, the only female combat pilot on the Roosevelt, told the Associated Press. For security reasons, only Lt. Sara's first name and her "Goalie" call sign can be disclosed.
The Roosevelt, whose home port is in Norfolk, arrived on scene last week and was dispatching F-14 Tomcats and Marine Corps F-18C Hornets to bomb Taliban militia and troops in Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terror network.
The Navy first sexually integrated auxiliary ships in the 1970s and allowed women to fly land-based support aircraft. Seven years ago, Congress lifted the prohibition against women serving on combat aircraft and ships, including carriers. A 5,000-sailor crew typically includes fewer than 500 women.
"I've always felt very comfortable being a female in the aviation community ever since I walked into flight school," Lt. Sara told AP. "There aren't many of us, that's true, but I think [the mens and womens] personalities mesh; otherwise, we wouldn't be in this job."
The Air Force's main combat contribution to Operation Enduring Freedom has been heavy bombers: B-1Bs, B-2s and B-52s.
An Air Force spokeswoman said women have piloted B-1B missions. The plane typically drops 2,000-pound satellite-guided bombs on fixed military targets, such as barracks, radars and surface-to-air missiles. Two female officers are training to become B-2 stealth bomber pilots, but none is now in the cockpit.
The Air Force has 16 female bomber pilots of a total 759, and 43 female fighter pilots out of 3,491 total.

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