- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 13, 2005

While the Pentagon discusses various options to reorganize the armed forces, we were delighted to hear President Bush draw a firm line on the issue of women in combat. “No women in combat,” Mr. Bush told reporters and editors of The Washington Times in an interview in the Oval Office on Tuesday. In our view, nothing could be clearer.

We trust that Mr. Bush’s unequivocal words will be heard and understood at the Pentagon. Transformation,however, should not be opposed. Apart from allowing women to serve in combat, other options of streamlining the military should be open to debate. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wisely foresaw early in 2001 that the American military must be ready to meet the demands of the 21st century, and this means changing the way America fights. Certain aspects of war will never change, but to blindly follow a policy simply because it worked in the past could be disastrous in present and future conflicts, where the enemy is more mobile and less conspicuous.

The president’s welcomed affirmation of traditional Pentagon policy is timely. The Army is looking for ways to transform combat brigades into what it calls “units of action.” As reported by this newspaper, these “units of action” would combine support and combat units into one “modular” unit. Some have questioned whether this proposal violates the law, because women could be assigned to serve in the support units that operate near combat units. Under a 1994 law, women are prohibited from serving in land combat units and units that “collocate” with them, such as close support units. We take the president’s comments to be a firm reassertion of that rule — and we commend him for it.

Of more immediate concern is the Army’s lack of manpower. Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker recently invoked emergency powers to increase the active force by 30,000 troops to more than 500,000. This can only be a short-term solution. The question of whether to put women in units that collocate with combat units is an unacceptable consequence of simply not having enough men to fill supporting units. However that problem is addressed, the president has made clear that it won’t be done by placing women in combat. A man could have done no less.

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