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Posted on Oct 5, 2006 Print this Article

WHERE DO ALLEN & WEBB STAND ON WOMEN IN COMBAT?

On September 13, 2006, Sen.George Allen (R-VA) raised the issue of women in combat in his campaign for re-election to the U.S. Senate. According to news reports, the Allen campaign sponsored a high-profile news conference criticizing a Washingtonian magazine article titled “Women Can’t Fight,” written by Democratic challenger James Webb in 1979.

Video of female former officers and Naval Academy graduates who spoke at that news conference, is prominently displayed on Allen’s campaign website. In response, Webb has lined up military women to speak on his behalf. It would be far more reassuring if the candidates would take this issue seriously, instead of using military women as campaign props.

As an independent public policy organization, the Center for Military Readinessis non-partisan and neutral in this race. But since both candidates have raised and debated the issue of women in combat, CMR has submitted inquiries to determine where the candidates stand on issues that are current and very important now.

Since 2004, for example, the Army has been illegally placing female soldiers in certain support units that collocate or embed with direct ground combat troops that directly engage the enemy. These units, which involve more than being “in harm’s way,” are required to be all male.

Do the candidates approve of this situation and would they move to codify such policies? Or would they insist that the Pentagon follow policy and law on women in or near land combat?

To find out, CMR has asked both candidates to provide answers to the following four questions.

1. Will you sponsor or vote for legislation repealing DoD regulations that exempt women from assignment in or collocated with direct ground combat units and ships required to be all male? (i.e., Army & Marine infantry, armor, Special Operations forces.)

2. Will you sponsor or vote for legislation to restore gender-separate training in the Army?

3. Do you believe the Army should continue to place female soldiers in land combat-collocated support units that are required by current regulation to be all male?

  • If so, do you approve of this being done without authorization of the Secretary of Defense, and without advance notice to Congress, as required by law?
  • If not, will you question these actions and intervene to restore compliance with policy and law?

(The congressional notification law also requires an analysis of the effect of proposed changes in regulations regarding women in land combat on young women’s current exemption from Selective Service registration.)

4. The following statement, excerpted from an article by James Webb titled “The War on the Military Culture,” was published as the cover story of the January 20, 1997, edition of the Weekly Standard.

“Present-day generals and admirals, constantly under political pressure, sometimes unsure of where to draw the line between military and civilian control, often constrained by legal edicts, and wishing to be fair to those females who do perform well, have issued unenforceable orders rather than confront the politicians who dreamed them up. They have muddled about for years from incident to incident while many junior leaders have been forced to deal directly with impossible, ethically compromising positions.” 

Do you agree or disagree with this statement?

To date, we have not received answers from the George Allen campaign. A spokeswoman for James Webb provided verbal answers to three of the four questions, summarized as follows. Mr. Webb:

  • Opposes the assignment of women in direct ground combat units that engage the enemy with deliberate offensive action, such as Army and Marine infantry, armor, Special Operations Forces including Navy SEALS, and submarines.
  • Does not consider it a priority to end co-ed basic training and does not argue for that policy, even though he advocated single-gender basic training in his1997 Weekly Standard article.
  • Is not interested in changing current policy on the battalion-level land combat-collocated support units, but also believes that laws on the books should be observed. The Army’s current placement of female soldiers in units required to be all male, without authorization or the legally required notice to Congress in advance, would have to be examined.

The “Meet the Press Debate” – September 17, 2006

During the September 17 debate between Allen and Webb on NBC’s Meet the Press program, host Tim Russert asked several valid questions on a major issue—the Army’s placement of female soldiers in units that are required to be all male. Neither candidate, unfortunately, seemed prepared to answer these questions. Several factual errors were stated by both.

Again, CMR is non-partisan and neutral in this race. Because we would like to hear issues of concern to CMR being discussed with more precision by both candidates, CMR shared the following information with both the Allen and Webb campaigns:

  • Not all soldiers and Marines are “in combat" in the war today. All personnel are "in harm's way," but direct ground combat (DGC) troops, such as infantry, armor, and Special Operations Forces, engage the enemy with deliberate offensive action under fire. Even in a “non-linear” environment, the missions of direct ground combat troops have not changed.
  • The debate about this issue has not centered on female soldiers doing security checks on female Afghanis or Iraqis. The current controversy began when the Army began to unilaterally re-define and effectively eliminate the DoD Collocation Rule, without authorization or prior notice to Congress.
  • When Tim Russert asked, "Shouldn't we just say that women can be in combat because they already are?" The correct answer was “No.” Congress (and the American people) must have a say in a matter as important as this.
  • Young women’s exemption from Selective Service registration is a major part of the controversy, since the Supreme Court has tied it to women’s exemption from direct ground combat.
  • Military leaders, both civilian and military, should not have the unilateral power to order military women into or near direct ground combat units. This should not be done without official authorization and prior notice to Congress, as required by law.
  • Congress, on the other hand, should exercise responsible oversight by enforcing the long-standing notification law, which the Army has been violating for more than a year.
  • The Supreme Court did not order VMI to admit women. The option to forego public funds and go private was a viable one, proposed in a well-drafted resolution by the VMI Alumni Association. The Board of Visitors, unfortunately, defeated that resolution by a single vote margin. VMI is a good co-ed school, but it is not the same school it was before that vote, which could have had a different outcome.
  • One of the biggest mistakes made during the process of gender-integration of the military is what we call “DSIW,” double standards involving women. Uniformed and civilian policy makers, not military women, are largely responsible for DSIW.
  • Misbehavior at Tailhook 1991 involved female officers as well as men, but only the men were punished. This disparity, and excessive punishments given even to men found innocent of wrongdoing, were early examples of DSIW, for which civilian and military officials, and some members of Congress, were responsible.

More information and background on these and related issues has been offered to both campaigns, and is available on our website, www.cmrlink.org.

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Posted on Oct 5, 2006 Print this Article