San Diego Union Tribune

May 19, 2005
    
House panel votes to restrict jobs for women in military

By Otto Kreisher
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON – Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee, led by chairman Duncan Hunter, overrode objections from their Democratic colleagues and the armed services yesterday to adopt proposed legislation that would restrict the jobs military women can hold.

Although Hunter, R-El Cajon, and his supporters initially had aimed their proposal at barring female soldiers from a few Army units now serving in Iraq, the provision they pushed through would affect all the services.

The Republicans argued that the provision they inserted into the $441 billion defense authorization bill on a nearly party-line vote merely codified existing defense policy that bars women from engaging in direct ground combat.

The policy was established in 1994 in a memorandum from then-Defense Secretary Les Aspin.

The GOP language would prevent the military from making any changes in current assignments of women without getting permission from Congress.

The military, particularly the Army, has been changing the way it deploys women in Iraq.

Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Ark., the top Democrat on the military personnel subcommittee, called the GOP effort "a solution in search of a problem." He and other Democrats noted that no one on the committee has heard a single complaint about the current use of women in the military and they objected to enacting such a change without holding hearings or getting the advice of senior military leaders.

But the committee rejected Synder's attempt to replace the GOP amendment with a requirement for a detailed report from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The amendment to restrict military women's assignment was offered by Rep. John McHugh, R-N.Y., chairman of the personnel subcommittee, who argued that "if America's mothers and daughters are going to be sent into combat, Congress should decide."

McHugh insisted that the proposed law would not eliminate a single job now held by a military woman. That included the female soldiers now assigned to the Forward Support Companies with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq. The amendment initially offered last week by McHugh and Hunter would have stopped the Army only from assigning women to those units because they directly supported troops in direct ground combat roles.

But Lt. Gen. James L. Campbell, director of Army staff, wrote the committee that it could bar women from 21,925 combat-related jobs in the Army.

When Democrats protested that the committee's action would create confusion in the minds of military women who are serving in Iraq, Hunter responded that "there is massive confusion in the Army" because of the changes it has made in the assignment of women.

He rejected the idea of waiting for a Pentagon report "while people are being killed."

Democratic members of the committee said the proposal would hurt national defense during a time of war.

About 10,000 military women are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and 35 have been killed and scores wounded there, most of them while serving in noncombat roles such as military police and truck drivers.

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