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Posted on Jun 1, 2005 Print this Article


Legislation rarely passes on the first try, but Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, accomplished a great deal when he took on some big guns on the issue of women in combat. After more than a decade of neglect, Congress is now engaged in this issue, and the Army has been put on notice that they cannot force women into land combat without Congress having a say.

On May 11 Chairman Hunter surprised his colleagues by co-sponsoring, with Military Personnel Subcommittee Chairman John McHugh (R-NY), an amendment to the 2006 Defense Authorization Billthat would specifically apply current DoD regulations regarding women to the Army’s new, modular land combat teams. The legislation would have prohibited female soldiers from serving in smaller forward support companies that “collocate” (operate 100% of the time) with land combat battalions such as the infantry. These “FSCs” differ from larger support units at the brigade level, which currently include women.

When the Hunter/McHugh amendment passed the subcommittee on a 9-7 partisan vote, congressional feminists and their media allies became stereotypically hysterical. In response to the uproar Hunter and McHugh substituted a new amendment that was less specific, but broader than the first because it would have codified Defense Department regulations affecting women in all the services, not just the Army. Properly enforced, that measure still would have required the Army to stop violating the law with regard to embedded land combat companies without formal notice to Congress, as required by law.

The issue, as Chairmen Hunter and McHugh saw it, was civilian control of the military in this important matter of public policy. That remains a perfectly legitimate issue to debate in a major congressional committee—especially since Army officials kept providing the legislators with the same type of constantly changing, dissembling information that had been obtained by CMR.

During an intense debate late on May 18, Democrat Committee members Ike Skelton (D-MO), Vic Snyder (D-AR), Ellen Tauscher (D-NY) and Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) offered amendments that would have stricken or modified the legislation. Skelton complained that Hunter had not scheduled hearings on women in combat. This was ironic, given the failure of Congress to consider the findings of the 1992 Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces1

In a remarkable moment of clarity, Chairman McHugh threw down the gauntlet by challenging his opponents to go ahead and make the case for allowing the Army to assign women to land combat units without Congress having a say.

Hunter and McHugh led the Republicans in defeating each amendment on narrow roll call or voice votes. Given the late hour Republicans stayed largely silent, but Chairmen Hunter and McHugh secured approval of their amendment by the full House Armed Services Committee at 11:08 PM. This surprised reporters, some of whom had already filed stories that did not accurately report the debate.

The Establishment Strikes Back

Enter the big guns from the entire liberal establishment, including the usual feminist advocates, the Washington Post, and the Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA), which should have known better.

Army Secretary Francis Harvey and Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard Cody, who had fired off letters denouncing the first Hunter/McHugh amendment, dispatched a corps of advocates to halt the legislation before it arrived on the House floor. The Army’s official website posted an array of editorials denouncing Hunter’s effort, and the Washington Postcontributed a front page story that, for the first time, obliquely mentioned the problem that had caused Hunter to move in the first place.

As reported by the Center for Military Readiness and a few news media such as the Washington Times, National Review Online and Human Events, the Army had been bending, breaking, redefining, or circumventing the rules on women in or near direct ground combat. Officials did this by pursuing three admitted options since May of 2004:

a)  The “Doublethink Option,”which requires field commanders to skirt the rules by “assigning” women to gender-mixed support units at the brigade level while “attaching” them to infantry/armor battalions that are supposed to be all-male. This plan, which a May 2004 Army briefing recognized could be seen as “subterfuge,” has been implemented in the 3rd Infantry and other Army Divisions. A strategy of playing games with words explains dissembling assurances that smaller forward support companies (FSCs) do not operate with land combat battalions—even though they are designed to do just that.

b)  The “Little Bit Pregnant Option,”presaged by a “Women in the Army Point Paper,” produced by the Office of Secretary of the Army Francis Harvey on January 24, which presumed to change the gender codes of 24 of 225 positions in a typical forward support company. As CMR predicted, Army officials are already increasing this number beyond ten percent.

c)  The “Beam Me Up, Scotty Option,” also signaled in Secretary Harvey’s Point Paper, which limits the collocation rule only to the time when a given infantry unit is “conducting” a direct ground combat mission. This option is named for a vaguely defined plan, as described to CMR President Elaine Donnelly by Secretary Harvey on February 16, that would evacuate female soldiers (somehow) on the eve of a battle.

Army officials repeatedly hurt their own credibility by constantly changing their tune and trying to mislead Congress about their intent to observe the collocation rule, or abolish it. They also kept changing the estimated number of female soldiers that might be affected if Chairman Hunter’s amendment passed—ranging from a low of 21 to a high of 21,925 “spaces” currently open for women, which they claimed would be suddenly closed. 2

Instead of recognizing the obfuscation and investigating further, most of the media only focused on the false allegation that the Hunter/McHugh amendment would have removed female soldiers from positions they are already authorized to have. HASC member Thelma Drake (R-VA) joined with Chairman Hunter to refute this notion at a May 24 news conference, but most reporters continued promoting the single-minded, inaccurate story line.

Recruiting at Risk

Air Force Academy graduate Heather Wilson (R-NM) teamed up with feminist Democrats in threatening to strike the Hunter-McHugh amendment. In a friendly interview with the May 24 Washington Post, Wilson tried to downplay the seriousness of the issue with this elitist remark; “A woman driving a water truck or flipping burgers in the mess tent can come under attack.”

Several advocates opposing Chairman Hunter argued that passage of his amendment would hurt recruiting, which has become more difficult with a war going on. But if it would help recruiting to order female soldiers into or near land combat units, Army officials would have done it openly months ago, instead of trying to circumvent law and policy without authorization.

Perhaps the Army has not forgotten that in their own surveys taken over a decade in the 1990s, 85% -90% of female enlisted personnel opposed the involuntary land combat assignments on the same basis as men. More recently, major surveys of potential recruits done for the U.S. Army have found that “fear of dying in combat” has doubled as a reason for potential recruits to avoid the military. 3

Young men are as likely to desire co-ed infantry assignments as they are to play on co-ed football teams.  And the majority of eligible young women fear combat even more than than men do.  

Parents are being given another powerful reason to discourage their children from signing up. So where is the surge in recruiting supposed to come from?  That’s a logical question, but logic has little to do with the push for women in land combat.

Where is Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld?

Chairman Duncan Hunter and colleagues who supported him paid a high compliment to military women by stepping forward and taking this issue seriously and persuading the House Armed Services Committee to do so as well.

In contrast, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeldhas been conspicuously missing in the debate. Had he acted in 2004, it would not have been necessary for Congress to question the Army’s persistent violations of DoD policy and the congressional notification law.

Just before the floor vote on the House Defense Authorization Bill, Secretary Rumsfeld belatedly discussed the Hunter/McHugh amendment with House Rules Committee leaders. Rumsfeld’s personal position remained unclear, but Hunter withdrew his Committee-passed amendment, and emerged with yet another substitute measure that passed the House on May 25, and will be taken up in conference.

The legislation does not codify Defense Department regulations exempting women from assignments in or near direct ground combat, but it does lengthen the period required for notice of proposed rule changes regarding women from 30 legislative days to 60 days (approximately six months.)

Current Defense Department regulations remain in effect, so Secretary Rumsfeld is left with two options:

a)  Take belated action to bring the Army back into compliance with current DoD regulations; or

b)  Provide official notice that the DoD collocation rule has been repealed without notice (in violation of the current congressional notification law.)

In a casual discussion with reporters on May 29, Secretary Rumsfeld was asked to comment on the question of where women should be assigned.  Rumsfeld said that he is waiting to see “how the Army sorts that out.”  Would the normally decisive Defense Secretary affect such a pose on less important matters, such as which new helicopter to buy and which bases to close?

It is unsettling to watch the Secretary Rumsfeld saying nothing while the Army muddles through, implementing unauthorized policies and conducting a live-fire social experiment that will undermine the advantages of modularity in the Army's new land combat teams.  The experiment could also drive recruiting numbers even lower at a time when the Army needs more men for the land combat teams.

On May 25, the European Stars and Stripes ran a story titled “Trust us to Decide Our Role in the Army,” quoting female enlisted women and junior officers saying that they should be allowed to decide where they should serve.  This is a recipe for chaos in the field that could needlessly cost lives.  The Bush Pentagon should not be allowing junior officers—or even four-star generals—to make up rules on their own. 

After more than a decade of neglect, Congress is now engaged, and the Army has been put on notice that they cannot force women into land combat without Congress having a say. The next step is to keep asking the right questions, in order to hold the Army’s boots to the fire. Out-of-control Army officials thought that no one cared about this issue, but Duncan Hunter proved otherwise.


1.  When Rep. Skelton chaired the HASC in 1993, he allowed only five minutes to hear testimony from former commissioner Elaine Donnelly on reasons why the Presidential Commission voted against the use of women in most types of combat.

2.  In a two-sentence, widely circulated May 17 letter, Army Staff Director Lt. Gen. James L. Campbell claimed (without any documentation) that 21,925 positions would be closed to women if the Hunter/McHugh amendment passed. This was either a fabrication, or a veiled admission that the Army has been violating current rules to a greater extent than previously known.  Either way, the letter successfully misled the media and distorted the debate.  

3.  Philpott, Tom, Daily Press, Mar. 6, 2005, quoting from U.S. Military Image Study, Aug. 4, 2004.

Posted on Jun 1, 2005 Print this Article