Springfield State Journal Register

May 27, 2005

Shimkus opposes limiting women's roles in combat


WASHINGTON - U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, who graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1980 in the first graduating class to include women, battled behind the scenes this week against a measure that would have limited what women could do in combat.

"They're great patriots, and they put their lives on the line every day," Shimkus said Thursday. "My first thought was for them."

The Republican lawmaker, who represents part of Springfield, co-sponsored an amendment that would have removed the offending provision. It was authored by Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., the only female military veteran in Congress. But the amendment never was brought to a vote.

In the face of opposition, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., withdrew his initial plan to keep women out of combat.

Instead, Hunter offered a provision that would extend, from 30 to 60 days, the time required for the Pentagon to notify Congress before it opens or closes positions to women. It also requires the Pentagon to review its 1994 policy that bans women from serving in direct ground combat units. That measure was approved 428-1 as part of the annual defense authorization bill.

Shimkus said restrictions might demean the women who are serving and create problems for commanders on the ground.

"We're in a war right now. My gut just told me this is not the time to be messing around with personnel decisions or reopening the debate about women in the military because women are in the military, they're doing great things, and some of the old rules and regulations are written based on an era that's long gone," Shimkus said.

Pentagon and Army leaders opposed Hunter's attempt to restrict women's roles, as did all the Democrats on Hunter's committee, including Rep. Lane Evans, D-Rock Island, who also represents part of Springfield.