October 26, 1997 in Nation/World

Soldiers Favor Integrated Training Study Also Finds Most Military Women Want Role In Ground Combat

Susanne M. Schafer Associated Press
 

More than 80 percent of the women in the military and half the enlisted men favor ending a policy that keeps women from serving in ground combat units, according to a study released by the Pentagon Tuesday.

The study, conducted over a three-month period in the past year by the Rand Corp., found that a majority of both sexes favor integrated basic training.

Only the Marine Corps segregates men and women in basic training.

The issues of same-sex training and women in the military have come under increased scrutiny in Congress in recent months, particularly after the Army’s numerous sexual harassment cases and courts-martial.

From 1992 to 1994, Congress and civilian military leaders took a number of steps to open a broad range of positions in the military to women, including flying in combat aircraft.

A total of 259,199 such positions were opened up in that time, but Pentagon officials said Tuesday they could not say exactly how many of those jobs had been taken by women.

The new study, which was paid for by the Pentagon, was conducted by Rand’s National Defense Research Institute after Congress ordered the Pentagon to review the extent and effect of the integration of women into the military.

In a summary of the study provided by the Pentagon and Rand, researchers Margaret C. Harrell and Laura L. Miller reported that bringing women into units that previously had been closed to them apparently had little effect on those units’ ability to do their jobs.

“A major finding of this study is that gender integration is perceived to have a relatively small effect on readiness, cohesion and morale in the units we studied,” the report stated, adding, “Both men and women contended that women perform about as well as men.”

Of the 934 service members surveyed, just two people listed gender as a factor that influences a unit’s ability to do its job. Instead, service members listed training and the climate created by unit leaders as the key factors.

That is not to say that the integration of women has no effect. For example, the effect of pregnancy on a unit “is greater when the unit has many women or when it is understaffed,” the report said.

According to a summary released by Rand, the researchers also found:

Only one-third of male officers agree that the policy that bars women from ground combat should be lifted. Women who favor the policy change differ on whether it should be voluntary.

Although most servicemen and women “declare that sexual harassment does not occur in their units, there is confusion and anxiety about what constitutes sexual harassment and how the charges are handled.”

“Perceived double standards concerning women’s physical standards and treatment generate hostility, notably on the part of junior enlisted men.”

Dating relationships within units “can be sources of tension.”

Pentagon officials released a summary of the study after a report on it appeared in The Washington Post, which said the study found that while thousands of combat-related military jobs have been opened to women, women fill a very low number of them.

Of the 47,544 specialized jobs that opened up over 1993 and 1994 - jobs that require women to volunteer, get special training and then qualify for - women hold only 815 of them, the report stated.

In some cases, commanders may require infantry experience for certain jobs that are open to women, but women are prohibited by law from joining infantry units.

Some commanders may decide to limit the number of women in certain units or assign women to administrative jobs, even if they are trained for other areas. Or, commanders are loathe to have a female aide or driver “because of concern about rumors or potential charges of sexual harassment,” the report said.

There are about 195,000 women in the armed forces, about 14 percent of the total.

The researchers visited 14 Army, Navy and Marine Corps units for the study. The Air Force was not included.

Rand is a private, not-for-profit organization that is involved in public policy research and analysis.

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