Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Generals Mobilize over Women in Combat

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Generals Mobilize over Women in Combat

Article excerpt

SENIOR ARMY GENERALS have forced the civilian army secretary to retreat from an ambitious plan to open thousands of combat positions that are now closed to women.

The opposition was so great that Secretary Togo West Jr. has withdrawn his recommendations to Defense Secretary William Perry and is now working with the angry officers to work out a compromise.

At the heart of the clash is a confidential "decision memorandum," dated June 1, that West sent to Perry. The memo recommended that women be allowed to serve in the battalion headquarters of combat engineer, air defense and field artillery units. West also urged that women be allowed to fly helicopters carrying special-operations troops and to serve on barrage artillery crews.

"Readiness will improve because we will have a larger pool of quality soldiers from which to draw to fill critical jobs," West said in the memo.

The nine-page memo had barely hit the desk of Perry's top aides when the army chief of staff, Gen. Gordon Sullivan, hit the roof. He protested that West's proposal went far beyond what field commanders had thought was prudent.

Many generals believe that women fail to meet the physical requirements to serve in infantry, armor and artillery units, the military's most lethal units and the forces most likely to engage in direct combat. And they believe that women would introduce morale and privacy problems in those units.

Sullivan, West and their top aides are putting the finishing touches on a revised plan that will likely open many new positions to women but not so many as West originally proposed. The final recommendations go to Perry for approval.

Few subjects are more sensitive in today's armed forces than the integration of women into battlefield units. The performance of 41,000 women in the Persian Gulf War, from flying helicopters to driving fuel trucks, quieted many skeptics and prompted Congress to lift bans on women flying combat aircraft and serving aboard warships, leaving the policy now in the hands of the Pentagon. …

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