- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Pentagon will miss Congress’ March 31 deadline for certifying that the Army’s reorganization of war-fighting brigades is abiding by its rule that women not serve in direct land combat or in support units that embed in those units, according to an internal memo.

Congress last year heard reports from some soldiers and from the Center for Military Readiness that mixed-sex Forward Support Companies (FSCs) were positioned within combat units.

They said the arrangement violated a 1994 Pentagon policy that had expressly banned such “collocation.” The Army denied breaking the rule, but many Republicans were skeptical.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, California Republican, won passage of an amendment to this year’s defense bill. It required Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to review how the Army is deploying women amid an ongoing Army transformation that is creating “modular” brigade combat teams with mix-and-match support units.

According to an internal Pentagon memo, the review has been assigned to the Rand Corp., a research organization frequently tapped by the military to study specific issues. The memo says Rand will need until Dec. 31, a nine-month extension.

A House Armed Services Committee aide, who asked not to be named, said staff has heard “informally” that the Pentagon wants an extension.

“From our standpoint, the committee would like to receive some information by March 31,” the aide said.

The aide said Mr. Hunter would like investigators to be able to visit Iraq to see how female soldiers are used.

Meanwhile, Elaine Donnelly, who runs the Center for Military Readiness, issued her own assessment last week under the headline “Army Still Violating Policy and Law on Women in Land Combat.”

“They are violating the collocation rule right now. They think they can redefine it at will,” Mrs. Donnelly said.

In the past, Army officials have said that a battlefield such as Iraq, where the front and rear lines are blurred by counterinsurgency operations, demands flexibility in how female soldiers are assigned within existing rules.

A spokeswoman reiterated that the Army is not violating the collocation rule.

“These are not new policies, and the Army is in compliance,” the spokeswoman said.

A Pentagon spokesman would say only that the congressionally required report would be completed “in all due diligence.”

In an Oval Office interview a year ago with editors and reporters of The Washington Times, President Bush made it clear his administration does not want women in land combat.

“There’s no change of policy as far as I’m concerned. No women in combat,” he said. “Having said that, let me explain, we’ve got to make sure we define combat properly: We’ve got women flying choppers and women flying fighters, which I’m perfectly content with.”

Mrs. Donnelly first raised questions about the makeup and roles of FSCs in the new Army. Internal Army documents in 2005 revealed a debate about whether the FSCs should be all-male. One memo said that if they were, there would not be sufficient soldiers to fill them.

Mrs. Donnelly’s Feb. 6 paper says the 1st Cavalry Division, based at Fort Hood, Texas, is assigning female soldiers to FSCs under the title of “searchers.”

“The FSC searchers do not have a specific [job title], but they are arbitrarily assigned to an infantry and armor company for missions in which it is likely that the combat soldiers will encounter female civilians and will need to search them,” she said. “This could include offensive operations under fire.”

Mrs. Donnelly said she also has learned that mixed-sex FSCs are being trained at Fort Riley, Kan., to embed with another type of combat unit called Reconnaissance, Surveillance, Target Acquisition (RSTA).

“Female soldiers have been told that according to Pentagon authorities, it is legal to position them with the RSTA, because when the time comes to deploy, they will be placed back to the brigade level, which is open to women,” Mrs. Donnelly said.

“It does not make sense to train female soldiers for important combat-collocated RSTA duties, only to pull them out when forward-support-company soldiers are needed most.”

The Army once envisioned RSTAs as mixed-sex units, but Mrs. Donnelly lobbied Mr. Rumsfeld’s staff to intervene. A 2002 memo designated RSTA as all-male.

“Effective immediately no additional women may be assigned to the squadron,” the memo ordered. “Those women currently assigned will be reassigned as soon as possible.”

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