Navy at Crossroads over Religious Beliefs, Women in Combat

Article excerpt

BASED on his religious beliefs, Lt. Cmdr. Kenneth Carkhuff doubted the suitability of women serving in combat. Those views, expressed privately to his superior officer, nearly cost him his career in the Navy. Now he is trying to expunge his military record of an incident that illustrates the challenges the Navy faces in opening its ranks to women.

Secretary of the Navy John Dalton last week overturned two separate Navy review boards' rulings discharging Commander Carkhuff, a helicopter pilot whose superiors, only weeks before his dismissal, predicted he would be "destined for command and beyond."

In discharging Carkhuff earlier this year, the Navy said the officer's request revealed a "glaring irreconcilable conflict with Navy policy."

"Overnight, an officer with impeccable credentials was tossed aside," says Stephen Gallagher, a retired Navy captain and former Navy judge. "The message the Navy was sending was clear. If a serviceman's beliefs aren't politically correct - no matter what those beliefs are based upon - he dare not express them. If he does, he risks his career coming to an unexpected end. We're glad the Navy understood the implications of its original action."

Carkhuff will now try to have all mention of the incident erased from his records. If not, his career could suffer, military experts say. Navy spokesmen say Carkhuff's future assignments will "depend on several factors, many of which have yet to be fully worked out." His court case will not be held against him.

The Carkhuff case has refocused attention on the degree to which the military should involve itself in the private lives of its officers.

The controversy also comes as Republicans are pushing for a constitutional amendment, the Religious Equality Amendment, protecting religious freedoms they say are being denied. …