A flood of complaints about sexual harassment at Army training facilities has the Pentagon considering a step that many military women say would be a chilling return to the past: sexually segregated basic training.
“We would be setting we women back 50 years if we did that,” said a female Air Force officer.
“I think it would be a terrible mistake,” said Capt. Cory Whitehead, the commanding officer of the Navy’s Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes, Ill.
Despite such protests, some military experts say they believe that sexually segregated training would give women a chance to start their service careers without added stress from natural sexual tensions.
The intensity of feelings on both sides of the issue appears to be setting the stage for a fresh round in the long and passionate debate over the role of women in the military.
Former Navy Secretary James Webb has advocated the segregation of women in basic training as a “logical … immediate step” toward a “return to normalcy.”
“I think it’s a matter that needs to be studied,” said Defense Secretary William Cohen.
But others, including Secretary of the Army Togo West, have serious concerns about resegregation.
“If we wish to address the larger issue of whether there should be women in mixed-gender training, it should not be in the context that seems to suggest: ‘They have been abused; let’s take them out.”’
Retired Sgt. Maj. Brenda L. Hoster, who accused the Army’s Sgt. Maj. Gene C. McKinney of sexually assaulting her in a hotel room last year, said resegregation was wrong.
“To go back and reinvent the wheel to put women in their own separate training units is the good old boys’ way to a quick fix without getting at the root cause,” she said.
Hoster’s charges came on the heels of the Army sex scandal that began last November at a base in Aberdeen, Md., and has spread to other bases. Male soldiers stand accused of everything from rape to death threats.