As the armed forces shrink and withdraw from some global hot spots, their agenda for the battle of the sexes grows.
The Pentagon under the Obama administration has devoted considerable hours in public and private to sorting out same-sex relationships, the roles of women in the foxhole and ways to stop sexual assaults. Now, another issue has arisen: gender transformation.
The sexual revolution has some traditionalists wondering whether the Pentagon is taking its eye off the ball — the enemy.
“Every conceivable form of PC is being enforced upon our hard-pressed military with a zeal that only a Russian army zampolit — a political officer — would truly appreciate,” said Ken Allard, a retired Army colonel and commentator. “We are seemingly concerned about everything except the most basic thing: how to fight and win the nation’s wars. If we have forgotten that constraint, let me assure you that our enemies have not, from the Taliban to the drug cartels to the Iranian Quds Force.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has made stamping out sex abuse a top priority, having met with President Obama, delivered public statements and appointed a board to recommend fixes.
Meanwhile, the Army, Marine Corps and U.S. Special Operations Command have immersed themselves in surveys and studies to evaluate physical standards for direct ground combat. It’s a two-year lead-up to putting women in infantry, tank and commando units.
The process is time-consuming and daunting. The Pentagon has made it clear that it does not want to retain irrelevant standards that women cannot meet — and it wants women introduced into combat units in sizable numbers to develop mentoring and female camaraderie.
“Yes, there is too much focus on social issues in the armed forces driven by external proponents with special interests, focused agendas and, in many cases, lack of knowledge about the armed forces,” said retired Gen. Carl Mundy, Marine Corps commandant from 1991 to 1995. “The military services are without question the most open element in our society, and the very nature of that openness, together with the fishbowl in which they exist, make them ripe and easy targets for activists with an agenda.”
Women and the Corps
The Marines in particular face a challenge in finding enough women, who make up 7 percent of the Corps. Women account for 14 percent of Army soldiers.
Before retiring as Marine commandant in 2010, Gen. James Conway testified before a congressionally created commission on military diversity. He said he doesn’t believe Marine women want to be in land combat.
“I don’t think you will see a change because I don’t think our women want it to change,” Gen. Conway testified. “There are certain demands of officers in a combat arms environment that our women see, recognize, appreciate, and say, ‘I couldn’t do that. In fact, I don’t want to do that because I don’t think it best prepares me for success if I am trying to do those things against the male population at lieutenant, captain, major and lieutenant colonel [ranks].’”
“Now that’s not to say that we don’t have women doing a tremendous job in combat where you have a pretty amorphous environment, no real front lines in a counterinsurgency environment. And their contributions are appreciated and recognized and rewarded,” the commandant added.
“In talking to them, I think they feel like that’s probably enough. So I don’t see the day coming where we would change our culture necessarily and, in the process, go against what I think the vast majority of our women would want to see — stay pretty much like it is.”
Since autumn, six female Marine officers have tried to complete the mandatory combat qualification course. All failed or dropped out because of injuries. The Corps now is attempting to compile a checklist of physical attributes that identifies female officers who can perform direct ground combat. It plans to apply the same inventory to enlisted Marine women.
The transgendered soldier
The combat debate was preceded by and now coincides with a running debate on openly serving gays. The Pentagon spent a year preparing every unit for open homosexuals in the ranks. Now it is churning out regulations on gay marriage, authorized leave for same-sex weddings and domestic benefits.
Told of complaints from combat veterans, a Pentagon spokesman said that, in the case of same-sex marriage, the Defense Department is complying with a Supreme Court decision that struck down most of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
“The Department of Defense remains committed to ensuring that all men and women who serve our country, and their families, are treated fairly and equally,” the spokesman said. “Expeditious implementation of the decisions announced in Secretary Hagel’s memorandum will help the Department remain true to its commitment.”
Elaine Donnelly, who runs the Center for Military Readiness, keeps track of the Pentagon’s sex-related bureaucracy — and she says it is growing.
Besides a committee that advises the defense secretary on women’s issues and a task force devoted to surveying sex-abuse victims, the services themselves are setting up satellite organizations to do the same things.
“There is also a task force that deals with the service academies alone,” Ms. Donnelly said. “And lots of individual committees set up within each service, which spend countless hours conducting internal meetings and writing reports.
“Then there are outside contractors such as Rand Corp., and even entertainers who do shows like ‘Sex Signals,’ which include edgy language and scenarios that are inconsistent with standards of professional propriety,” she said.
Now another social debate is emerging. Army Pvt. Bradley E. Manning, convicted of leaking thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, wants to undergo a sex change while serving his sentence at a military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. The Army says it does not provide such hormone therapy.
But the gay-rights movement, a big supporter of Mr. Obama, has demanded that the military ranks be open to transgenders as well as gays.
The social focus has emerged amid a military drawdown and retrenchment. The last combat troops left Iraq in December 2011, and most are due to leave Afghanistan next year. Mandatory budget cuts known as sequestration are squeezing a force already slated to shrink.
“It appears to me as if neither the administration nor much of the Congress is focused on military readiness,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, a former Delta Force commando and Pentagon intelligence official. “Yet they tell me that I must sacrifice constitutional liberties in the interest of national security.
“Give that line a rest, because if they care one whit about national security, they would stop the sequestration and social engineering of the most important element of national security.”
Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, Army chief of staff, announced in June that he was eliminating 10 brigade combat teams, with an aim of trimming 80,000 soldiers over four years.
The Navy said it lacked the money to send a second aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf, even though the commander in charge requested it.
The Air Force jet fighter inventory has shrunk by more than 500 over the past 10 years to about 2,000 planes as it consolidates units. Retired fighter jocks have taken to calling it a “geriatric Air Force.”
Even though women have piloted fighter aircraft for nearly 20 years, Air Combat Command is not immune to the social agenda. It conducted sweeping inspections of work and living spaces to root out any digital or hard-copy material deemed offensive to women.
The week of Aug. 12 illustrated the Pentagon’s dual role as war fighter and social engineer: It held a press briefing on the Afghanistan War on Aug. 14. That same day, it announced policies extending benefits to same-sex spouses of service members.
The Pentagon had to work through the circumstance that not all military couples live in states that permit same-sex marriage. The answer: Those personnel will be granted extra leave time to travel to states that allow same-sex weddings.
“We recognize that same-sex military couples who are not stationed in a jurisdiction that permits same-sex marriage would have to travel to another jurisdiction to marry,” the Pentagon said. “That is why the department will implement policies to allow military personnel in such a relationship non-chargeable leave for the purpose of traveling to a jurisdiction where such a marriage may occur.”
The next day, Aug. 15, top officials briefed the press on sexual assault prevention and response.
That afternoon, the Pentagon put out two statements from Mr. Hagel within seconds of each other.
One dealt with war — the secretary’s call to Egyptian Defense Minister Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as the military cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood. The second: sexual harassment.
“Eliminating sexual assault from the armed forces remains one of the Defense Department’s top priorities,” Mr. Hagel said.
Said Gen. Mundy: “My greatest concern is the impact on the morale and steadfastness to service among some of the finest and most selfless leaders this nation produces, together with the equally fine young men and women they lead who are barraged with being branded as or tolerating sexual predators or anti-equal opportunity. I cannot help but believe that there is long-term impact on the effectiveness of our armed forces from this in terms of morale, recruiting, retention and public confidence and support.”