House Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter (R.-Calif.) took a gutsy and timely stand this week to prevent Army Secretary Francis Harvey and top Army brass from unilaterally amending the rule that exempts women from having to serve in support units that follow ground combat units onto the battlefield.
Hunter requested that Rep. John McHugh (R.-N.Y.), chairman of the Military Personnel Subcommittee, insert language into the National Defense Authorization Act expressly prohibiting women from serving in Forward Support Companies that “collocate” with combat units 100% of the time. The Hunter-McHugh amendment passed on a 9-7 partisan vote on May 11.
The new language became necessary when the Army unilaterally altered the rule that prohibited women from serving in support units that “collocate” with smaller land combat battalions in infantry and armor (tank) forces. The altered rule prohibited women from serving in the Forward Support Companies only while the ground combat units they support are actually “conducting” a combat mission. The change was included in a “Message from the Army Leadership,” signed by Harvey, and published in the March issue of the Army’s official magazine, Soldiers. But Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld apparently did not approve the change or provide Congress with official notice of it in advance, as required by law.
Even though Army officials have claimed that changes are only tentative, they are already being implemented in the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, which is currently in Iraq.
The Army’s new and inefficient policy could disrupt combat operations and be destructive of morale because it requires that women now assigned for the first time to Forward Support Companies be evacuated whenever combat begins.
“The Forward Support Companies under the new Army modularization will be called upon to move into battle to support combat forces,” Hunter said explaining his legislation to prevent the Army’s rule change. “Rocket-propelled grenades, machine gun fire and all the other deadly aspects of war will make no distinction between women and men on the front lines. The nation should not put women into the front lines of combat.”
Predictably, the Democrats on the committee are backing the Army’s nonsensical maneuver. Like the top Army leaders behind the rule change, they seem driven not so much by a desire to improve combat effectiveness as by a desire to advance the careers of women in the military, even at the expense of combat effectiveness.
“Many in Congress, including myself, were concerned about the ability of women to serve in a variety of front-line missions,” said Rep. Ike Skelton (D.-Mo.), the ranking Democrat on Armed Services Committee. “Based on the exceptional performance of our women service members, most recently in Afghanistan and Iraq, I no longer have those concerns.”
But this misses the point. The amendment does not affect larger brigade-level support units in which women currently serve. Everyone supports our women in uniform, who have been serving America with great courage in the War on Terrorism. Pride in our servicewomen, however, does not justify changes in Defense Department rules regarding female soldiers.
Everyone is in danger in a war zone, but there is no military or demographic need to send young women—many of whom are mothers—to fight in or near land combat units that engage the enemy with deliberate offensive action; i.e., the infantry, armor, Special Operations Forces, etc. The Army has not produced evidence of a shortage of male soldiers for the smaller combat battalions and collocated support units. If there is a perceived or temporary shortage, the Army should instruct recruiters to concentrate their efforts on young men, instead of spending significantly more time and resources seeking female recruits in order to meet gender-based recruitment goals.
Members of the full House Armed Services Committee will consider the measure on May 18. Hunter and the Republicans on the committee deserve applause and immediate support from conservatives for doing the right thing in advancing legislation to keep women out of land combat support units.