Monday, March 14, 2005

The Army drafted new language about a regulation barring women in combat-support units 11 days after the Army’s top civilian told Congress there would be no changes.

A military advocacy group has asked the Pentagon inspector general to investigate the discrepancy and whether the Army’s “transformed” brigades violate the combat exclusion as they fight in Iraq.

Army and Pentagon spokesmen say the Army is not violating any regulations or laws in the assignment of female soldiers to the new brigades.

“We believe the Army is in compliance,” said Lt. Col. Joe Richard, a spokesman for the Pentagon’s top personnel official. Department of Defense “reviews of the policy have not identified conflict between Army concept and current policies and statutes.”

The Army is transforming brigades so they can deploy faster, with support units in tow as “organic” to the unit. The conflict is that current policy bars Forward Support Companies (FSCs) from being embedded if they include women.

But if the Army obeys standards set out in the policy — and keeps the Forward Support Companies as it was ordered to do — it would not have enough soldiers to fill the companies, according to internal Army documents previously discovered by The Washington Times. Other internal documents have argued that the Army should eliminate the collocation rule.

The issue involves the part of the policy that says mixed-sex support units are prohibited from embedding — or collocating — with land combat units.

Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey told the chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services committees in Jan. 13 letters: “No change to the extant policy is required.”

Army regulations bar women from support units that “collocate routinely with units assigned a direct ground combat mission.”

Pentagon guidelines approved in 1994 say women are barred “where units and positions are doctrinally required to physically collocate and remain with direct ground combat units that are closed to women.”

Therein lies the discrepancy. A “Women in the Army” point paper, dated Jan. 24 and drafted within the Army secretary’s office, states the policy a different way. It says women are barred from units, “which routinely collocate with those units conducting an assigned direct ground combat mission.”

The addition of the word “conducting” is significant, because it implies that if the combat battalion is not in the midst of fighting it can collocate with mixed-sex support units.

Elaine Donnelly, who heads the Center for Military Readiness, said the new language would violate the Army policy. She sent a five-page letter this week to Pentagon Inspector General Joseph E. Schmitz asking for an investigation.

Mrs. Donnelly said the 3rd Infantry Division, the first to transform its brigades into smaller “units of action,” is violating the policy in Iraq by shifting women in and out of FSCs depending on the level of fighting.

Mrs. Donnelly, who opposes placing women in combat, said she met with Mr. Harvey and top generals on Feb. 16 at the Pentagon. The Army officials told her that female soldiers will be “evacuated” from FSCs once fighting begins, according to her letter to Mr. Schmitz.

“We were astonished by the absurdity of this position, which is completely unworkable and perhaps intentionally so,” she wrote. “In the unlikely event that plans such as this are actually carried out, ensuing problems will undoubtedly be attributed to the collocation rule.”

Mrs. Donnelly included in her complaint official organizational charts of the 3rd Infantry Division, which she says proves that the Army is violating the policy.

The Army says otherwise.

“The Army is in compliance with the policy,” said Col. Joseph Curtin, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon. “Senior Army and DoD officials met with Miss Donnelly recently to hear her concerns. We continue and will continue to keep the Department of Defense informed of any changes.”

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide