- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 21, 2015

Former top military leaders are asking Congress to exercise its oversight over the process of integrating women into combat, saying they need to look harder at the effect it could have on readiness and unit cohesion.

In a letter to the leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees released Thursday by the Center for Military Readiness, former high-level military officials said they are worried that putting women into combat will harm the readiness of deployed troops — and that standards could be lowered to allow them to serve in those roles.

“We ask that committee members insist on the opportunity to receive and review all research findings before controversial policies are implemented,” the letter read. “We also ask that the Senate avoid taking any action that would accelerate flawed policies known to increase risks of debilitating injury and mission failure for both women and men in the combat arms.”

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said he expected most if not all combat jobs to be open to women by January 2016, the deadline for the Defense Department to either open a position or get an exemption from Congress to keep it closed to women. He said he believed as many jobs as possible should be opened to give women the chance to serve.

Critics of gender-integrated combat forces say physical differences will cause women to get hurt more easily, harming the capability of the rest of the group if one service member isn’t able to participate in operations because of an injury. They also worry that romantic relationships or an innate desire by men to protect women will be detrimental to unit cohesiveness.

The letter asking lawmakers to look closely at problems with gender integration is signed by nearly 100 supporters, including Gen. Harry Shelton, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff; Gen. Walter Boomer, the former assistant commandant of the Marine Corps; and Adm. Thomas Hayward, the former chief of naval operations.

Some combat positions, like those with the Navy Riverines or communications jobs with special operations units, are already open to women. The military is currently in the process of testing whether or not other jobs, like trigger pullers with the SEALs or Rangers, should be opened. Leaders have said they expect to have their recommendations ready by the fall.

As part of that assessment, a group of 19 women participated in the first gender-integrated Ranger school last month. While all of the women — and well as more than half of the men — were unable to make it to the second phase of training, eight women and 101 men were given the chance to retry the first phase starting on May 14. About 15 percent of all Ranger school students historically have to repeat the first phase of the training, according to an Army website.

• Jacqueline Klimas can be reached at jklimas@washingtontimes.com.

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