War and American Women: Heroism, Deeds, and Controversy

By William B. Breuer | Go to book overview

24 "Today's Battlefield Is More Horrific"

Tinges of spring were in the air and the Japanese cherry trees in their fragile beauty were straining to burst forth in blossoms in Washington, D.C., where fifteen members of the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces gathered in the Hubert H. Humphrey Building. There they were sworn in by United States Solicitor General Kenneth W. Starr. It was March 25,1992.

When Congress established the Commission three months earlier, it directed that the President appoint members after consulting with the Democratic chairmen and ranking Republicans of the Armed Services Committees of the House and Senate. Congress specified that Commission members were to be diverse with respect to race, ethnicity, gender and age, and they were to have credible track records in the public or private sectors in matters pertaining to national defense.

President Bush named retired Air Force General Robert T. Herres to be chairman of the Commission. A former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Herres, during his thirty-six years of military service, had assignments in fighter interceptor aircraft, technical intelligence, military space activity, and strategic offensive operations.

Although Bush had given the newly minted commission no specific instructions or course to pursue, only a week after the panel had been sworn in, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney restated the focus of the U.S. armed forces in a speech to a Pentagon gathering:

It's important for us to remember that what we are asked to do in the Department of Defense is to defend the nation. The only reason we exist is to be prepared to fight and win wars. We're not a social welfare agency. We're not an agency that's operated on the bais of what makes sense for some members of Congress' concerns back home in their districts. This is a military organization. Decisions we make have to be taken based upon those kinds of considerations, and only those kinds of considerations.1

In the months ahead, members of the commission, in groups and individually, crisscrossed the nation, holding hearings in major cities, interviewing members of the armed forces, and visiting defense installations. Theirs

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