Congress May Reconsider Women-in-Combat Rules

Republican members of the congressional Armed Services committees say they may take a second look at Clinton-era rule changes that put military women closer to the front lines in time of war.

After a maintenance unit took a wrong turn and was ambushed near An-Nasiriyah, Iraq, on March 23, two female service members were captured and another went missing. That prompted Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness to call for the reversal of the Clinton rules.

U.S. forces subsequently rescued Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch (see cover story).

In 1994, Clinton Defense Secretary Les Aspin cancelled the "substantial risk of capture" rule, Donnelly told Human Events. This rule had excluded women not only from ground combat units, but also from other units that operated near the front lines. "It provided some protection to women like [single mother and current POW] Shoshawna Johnson who joined the Army to be a cook and, according to her family’s own statements, wasn’t interested in close combat."

Donnelly said the rule should be reinstated but that if it is not, female recruits should be warned of the real risks they are running. "I think that a lot of young women sign up for the military thinking they are exempt from [these] positions," she said. Pfc. Lori Piestewa is still MIA.

Donnelly and several Armed Services committee members told Human Events that they did not advocate changing the rules in the middle of the current war, and that they endorsed the role that women play in support positions in the military.

Rep. Joe Wilson (R.-S.C.) and Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R.-Md.) said the rule should be returned to its pre-Clinton status. "I am very familiar with combat service support roles," said Wilson, who has 30 years of experience in the Army National Guard. "I do not want women in harm’s way. . . . I think this will be discussed [by Armed Services committee members] after the war is over."

"This is a national security issue," said Bartlett. "They will rape and torture women in front of the men and break the men. They say that’s a problem with men. I hope we never live in a society in which men are not deferential to women."

"Women should not be in combat," said Sen. Jim Talent (R.-Mo.) when asked about reversing the rule change. "But they should be in combat support roles. I haven’t looked at that enough to say. . . . You should talk to the chairman of the personnel subcommittee, Saxby Chambliss. I would be interested to know what he thinks."

"We’ve had women POWs in previous conflicts," said Sen. Chambliss (R.-Ga.). "I don’t know whether I am in favor of changing the rule or not. We will have a lot more information then we ever had before [after the war ends] because we have more women serving than ever before." Asked if the subcommittee will take up the issue, he replied, "I suspect we will be looking at this. There will be a number of issues we will be looking at and I don’t know what priority this one will have."

"I think I’m inclined to do that," said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R.-Okla.), who added that he wanted to study the question more. "You can’t have them co-mingling in the front lines in battle."

"Everybody serving in our military today is a volunteer. And so you have to place it in that context," said Sen. John Cornyn (R.-Tex.). "But obviously I deplore the fact that we have women who have been taken POWs. I admire them for wanting to serve in whatever capacity they choose to serve. I would want to hear some more discussion from Secretary Rumsfeld and our military commanders on that issue before I would come down on one side or the other."


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