Friday, February 4, 2005

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee has ordered an investigation into whether transformed Army divisions are violating the Pentagon rule against sex-integrated support units embedding with land combat battalions.

Committee Chairman Rep. Duncan Hunter said that his staff should complete the inquiry soon, at which time he will assess whether the Army is complying.

“We’re looking into this issue,” the California Republican said. “We don’t have many preliminary results, but the committee is looking at this. It’s a serious question and we’ll probably have an answer in a week or so.”

The issue has arisen as the Army reorganizes its 33 combat brigades, within 10 divisions, into 40 or more modular “units of action.” The goal is for the units to train and deploy as one so they can respond quickly to world trouble spots.

Critics inside and outside the Army charge that it is violating the embed rule in order to make the units modular. They say Army organizational charts show that for forward support companies (FSCs) to correctly do their job of providing war-fighting units with support in a war zone, as in the 3rd Infantry Division heading to Iraq, these mixed-sex units will have to embed with all-male combat forces.

The Army disagrees, saying the FSCs are attached at the higher brigade level and do not routinely embed with combat battalions. If true, the arrangement would meet policy restrictions.

President Bush, in an interview with The Washington Times in January, firmly stated that he was not in favor of women participating in land combat. Women are permitted to serve in combat aircraft and ships because of policy changes made by President Clinton in 1994.

A day after Mr. Bush’s remarks appeared in The Times, Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey sent a letter to congressional leaders, which said that after a “systemic review of all Army policies,” he had decided to retain the women-in-combat prohibition.

“My assessment is that, in our new brigade combat teams (units of action), no women will be assigned to a unit below the brigade level whose primary mission is direct ground combat,” Mr. Harvey said. “Neither will women be routinely collocated [the Army word for embedded] with units assigned a direct combat mission. Therefore, the brigade combat team (unit of action) is consistent with both Department of Defense and Army policy and no change to the extant policy is required.”

Col. Joseph Curtin, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, reiterated the secretary’s position.

“Female soldiers are assigned to the FSCs in the 3rd ID and have been for some time,” Col. Curtin said yesterday. “The division is in compliance with the policy. Female soldiers are not assigned or attached to units that have a direct combat role below the brigade level.”

But Elaine Donnelly, who heads the Center for Military Readiness and who opposes women in combat, has been visiting members of Congress and staffers to argue otherwise. She charges the Army is embedding mixed-sex FSCs within the combat units they support. The 1994 policy bans this practice, as well as putting women in the combat arms.

Said Mrs. Donnelly: “The deployment to Iraq of scores of female soldiers in the 3rd Infantry Forward Support Companies, which are coded by regulation to be all-male, indicates that the Army is saying one thing and doing another. This is the wrong choice. … The deployment violates current Defense Department rules and the law requiring congressional notice well in advance.”

Internal Army documents show that if it made FSCs all-male and did embed them, it would not have enough soldiers to fill out all the units of action.

Briefing documents previously obtained by The Washington Times show that some senior Army officers advocated abandoning the collocation rule to make the transformation process easier.

The focus right now is on the first transformed division, the 3rd Infantry Division, based on Fort Stewart, Ga..

An Army source has written a statement accusing 3rd Division commanders of violating the rule.

“I am very disappointed that senior officers have added females to combat battalions by playing games with the terms ‘assigned’ and ‘attached,’ ” the source wrote. “I have also seen comments made by Army spokesmen that are misleading to anyone who does not understand the terms, or is not aware of what the true situation is.”

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