Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Iraq war has highlighted confusion over the proper roles of women in the military, and policy-makers are often ignorant of what women want to achieve while wearing the uniform.

Those were the messages during a recent conference in Washington by the Center for Military Readiness (CMR). The group, headed by Elaine Donnelly, opposes women in combat.

Earlier this year, she fought a pitched battle with Army officials who wanted to let female soldiers serve in support units embedded with land combat units, such as infantry and armor.

The embedding, or collocation, is prohibited by Pentagon and Army policy, but Mrs. Donnelly believes the Army is, in practice, violating the embed rule in Iraq.

“The president said in January ‘no women in combat,’ but the Army is doing what it’s doing,” she said.

She said some Pentagon personnel officials push the idea of putting women in combat without realizing a majority do not want the jobs.

“You have no idea as how many generals in the Pentagon look at this as a career opportunity for their own daughters,” Mrs. Donnelly told the conference of CMR members. “You don’t circumvent rules so they can follow in dad’s footsteps and achieve flag rank.”

Women make up about 14 percent of the 1.4 million active-duty force. In 1994, the Pentagon and Congress ended the ban on women serving on combat planes and ships, but retained the exclusion from land combat. Generally, Congress kept that ban because women do not have the required upper-body strength.

Reserve Air Force Capt. Margie Crowe, who recently completed 11 years on active duty as a personnel officer, spoke at the conference about the mind-set inside the Pentagon on women and equal opportunity.

“One of my senior leaders looked shocked when I would tell him women shouldn’t be in combat,” said Capt. Crowe, the mother of four sons. She said she saw women fail at emergency-relief drills “because they can’t lift anybody up. They can’t lift up females.”

She also talked of an atmosphere at overseas Air Force bases that she said seems to encourage sexual relations between superiors and subordinates. She recalled seeing photographs taken by her soldier husband in Baghdad. In the background were Army women in bikinis around a pool.

“What happens when they attack?” she asked her husband. “How are they going to run in those bikinis? Who takes that kind of clothing to a combat zone?”

Another speaker was a former Army captain who commanded a transportation company in Iraq last year. The ex-officer, who was introduced by her first name only, said her mixed-sex company lacked training and truck armor as it ran the gantlet of ambushes from base to base.

Even though she said “the performance of women in my unit was outstanding,” with several firing their weapons, she said she does not support putting women in land combat.

“There is a difference between men and women,” she said. “That is a fact, not a matter of opinion.”

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