Total victory is rare in Washington, but House Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter (R.-Calif.) accomplished a great deal when he took on the issue of women in land combat.
On May 11, Hunter surprised colleagues by co-sponsoring, with Personnel Subcommittee Chairman John McHugh (R.-N.Y.), an amendment to the 2006 Defense Authorization that would have specifically applied current Defense Department regulations 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” constantly with combat battalions such as the infantry. These embedded units differ from larger support units at the brigade level, which would continue to include women.
When the Hunter-McHugh amendment passed the subcommittee on a 9-to-7 partisan vote, congressional feminists and their media allies became stereotypically hysterical. In the full committee, Hunter and McHugh replaced their subcommittee amendment with language that was less specific but broader because it would have codified regulations affecting women in all the services, not just the Army. Properly enforced, this measure would have required the Army to stop assigning women to land combat-collocated units without prior notice to Congress, as required by law.
Hunter and McHugh surprised everyone again by persuading the full committee to approve their amendment May 18. During intense debate, Democrat committee members offered several amendments to strike or modify Hunter-McHugh, but the two chairmen led Republicans in defeating each one on narrow roll-call or voice votes.
Enter the big guns, including the liberal media establishment and some large military organizations that should have known better. Army Secretary Francis Harvey and Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard Cody, who had fired off letters opposing the original amendment, deployed a battalion of advocates to stop it. The Army’s official website posted editorials denouncing Hunter’s effort, and the Washington Post contributed a lengthy, one-sided story that, for the first time, deigned to obliquely mention the problem that had motivated Hunter months ago.
As reported by the Center for Military Readiness and conservative media outlets, including Human Events, the Army has been bending, breaking, redefining or circumventing the rules on women in or near direct ground combat. Officials have done this with semantic sophistry—playing games with military terms, redefining Defense Department rules without authorization and suggesting that the Army would comply with law and policy by somehow removing female soldiers from formerly all-male units on the eve of future battles.
Army officials hurt their own credibility by claiming that various numbers of female soldiers—ranging between 21 and 21,000—would be affected by the legislation.
Hunter chastised them for providing constantly changing misinformation, and the normally mild-mannered McHugh challenged Democrats to go ahead and make their case for allowing the Army to put women in land combat without congressional oversight.
Air Force Academy graduate Heather Wilson (R.-N.M.) teamed up with feminist Democrats in threatening to strike the Hunter-McHugh amendment. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld belatedly discussed the matter with House Rules Committee leaders, and Hunter 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 in the area from 30 legislative days to 60 (approximately six months).
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. Out-of-control Army officials thought that no one cared about this issue, but Hunter proved otherwise.