- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 11, 2005

From combined dispatches

A House Armed Services subcommittee yesterday voted along party lines to ban Army women from serving in combat-related positions.

The panel’s Republican majority voted to prohibit women from combat service support units in a last-minute amendment to a defense funding bill for the upcoming fiscal year.

“The majority of Congress believes women should not be engaged in combat-related activities,” said Rep. John M. McHugh, New York Republican and chairman of the House subcommittee tasked with overseeing military personnel matters.

Pentagon policy already bans women from serving in front-line combat units, but the Army has used female troops in support roles on or near battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan — a practice Republicans said must change.

“Women should be barred from those positions,” Mr. McHugh said, adding that only 31 women would be affected by the proposed measure. “The current ban on women in combat needs to be preserved.”

Democrats objected to the amendment, saying it could have a negative effect on military morale and recruiting.

“Today, women are essential to our ability to fight the war in Iraq and the global war on terrorism,” said Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee. “If our nation is truly committed to winning these wars and meeting our other defense requirements, we cannot afford to reject the talents of women, who have served so well.”

The measure would send “a bad message to all who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Rep. Loretta Sanchez, California Democrat. “As the Army continues to face recruiting and retention issues, this is certainly not the time to be taking more soldiers out of our forward support companies.”

The Army opposes the measure and offered to brief members of Congress about the role women play in the Army.

“The Army remains in strict and full compliance with Department of Defense policies,” Army spokeswoman Maj. Elizabeth Robbins said yesterday. “Women soldiers have performed magnificently in all formations in which they are permitted to serve.”

Top Pentagon officials have criticized the proposed restriction. The measure “will cause confusion in the ranks and will send the wrong signal” to troops, said Army Secretary Francis Harvey.

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