- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 30, 2002

The Army is removing female soldiers from ground reconnaissance units that are part of the service's future fast-deploying combat brigades.
Reversing a Clinton administration policy, the Pentagon no longer will let women be assigned to Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition (RSTA) squadrons. These unique units, the first of which will become operational next year, are trained to perform some of the ground sweeps now being conducted in the mountains of Afghanistan, as well as other missions.
Eight female soldiers who have been training in the first RSTA unit are being reassigned, an Army spokeswoman said yesterday.
The reversal is to comply with a 1994 Defense Department policy that prohibits women from serving in units that perform direct ground combat roles. The Army says it has changed its mixed-sex policy on RSTA because the units, as they evolve as part of Army transformation, are taking on more missions.
But as recently as several months ago, Army officials told a pro-military advocate they had no plans to change the units' co-ed status.
"I believe they would not have made the change without directions from above," said Elaine Donnelly, who heads the Center for Military Readiness. She has pressed Bush appointees, in meetings at the Pentagon in recent months, to make RSTA male-only.
"This is a real shift in what they're doing," she said.
Clinton administration political appointees did not view the newly created squadrons as direct combat units when the brigades were created in 1999 and developed in 2000. But President Bush's appointees at the Pentagon take a different view because the squadrons are likely to conduct intensive ground searches with armor and infantry troops.
The decision marks the second time the Bush Pentagon has acted to remove instances of what conservatives call political correctness in the armed forces.
In March, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, revamped the Pentagon's Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS). Its charter was rewritten to have the panel deal with readiness issues, not women in combat. All holdover Clinton appointees have been dismissed, and a new committee is being appointed.
In late April, Army headquarters at the Pentagon told the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command to stop assigning women to RSTA squadrons and to reassign those in the units. The squadrons will be male-only, the order said.
Martha Rudd, an Army spokeswoman at the Pentagon, said the Army made the decision April 26 at the request of the training command. She said the decision was based "upon evolutionary changes in the mission and the operating environment."
Ms. Rudd said the surveillance troops within the squadron were classified "P-2," or open to women. Now the entire squadron is "P-1," or closed to women.
A defense source said the change came after senior Pentagon civilians were urged by pro-military groups to make the change.
The policy reversal is a victory for Mrs. Donnelly. In recent months, she met with Mr. Wolfowitz and argued that women in RSTA violated the direct-combat ban.
"It means that the intent of Congress will be upheld and that women will not be in direct ground combat," Mrs. Donnelly said in an interview. "There is no public support for this. There is no support among military women for this, enlisted women especially. This is a sign that this administration is taking these matters seriously."
The policy reversal affects futuristic units (Interim Brigade Combat Team, or IBCT) that are being trained at Fort Lewis, Wash.
In all, six IBCTs will be assembled at various Army bases, with the first one operational next May. Each brigade contains an RSTA squadron developed specifically for the Army of the future, called the "objective force." In general, the force will be faster and more mobile and able to respond to various threats, including terrorists.
Mrs. Donnelly and some members of Congress viewed the inclusion of women in the reconnaissance squadrons as a move by Clinton policy-makers to maneuver around the land-combat ban.
The Clinton administration in 1994 removed restrictions on women in combat ships and aircraft but retained the prohibition on ground combat.
Some feminists and DACOWITS subsequently pushed the services to open more combat jobs, including some Army artillery units.
Although the Army said RSTA's change in mission prompted the order to exclude women, 10 months ago a senior general argued that the squadron performed direct-combat roles. At that time, the Army said no changes were planned.
In August, Lt. Gen. B.B. Bell, commander of the Army Armor Center at Fort Knox, Ky., wrote a memorandum saying it was the determination of the armor community that RSTA was a ground combat unit.
"The RSTA squadron in its entirety is designed for full-spectrum operations with sustained contact with enemy forces," Gen. Bell wrote. "RSTA soldiers are equipped with a full range of weaponry, from individual to anti-tank missile and are prepared to engage threat forces to retain the commander's freedom of maneuver. The mission directly meets the Department of Defense definition of 'direct ground combat.'"
Gen. Bell now commands III Corps, with headquarters at Fort Hood, Texas.


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