Cal  Thomas

Far more serious than the short-term consequences of some poorly armored vehicles in Iraq are the potential long-term consequences of putting female soldiers in ground combat units.

Critics of placing women in combat units say the Army is manipulating language in rules governing such placement to achieve a social objective that would substantially and significantly change the way America fights wars and possibly put all soldiers - men and women - at greater risk.

What has raised concerns is a Nov. 29 briefing by a senior Army officer responsible for Army personnel issues at the Pentagon along with a civilian. The briefing by these two people was for Lt. Gen. James Campbell, director, Army Staff. It included a phrase, "The way ahead: rewrite/eliminate the Army collocation policy." Collocation is military-speak for deploying mixed-sex non-combat units alongside all-male fighting units. The official Army policy prohibits female soldiers in units specifically designated as combat units. But some Army officers think they see a loophole large enough to drive through their social agenda.

The linguistic questions revolve around a policy memorandum written on Jan. 13, 1994, by then-Secretary of Defense Les Aspin. After "restrict(ing) women from direct combat on the ground," Aspin wrote: "The Services may propose additional exceptions, together with the justification to the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness)." (emphasis mine)

What the briefers at the Nov. 29 meeting suggested is that those who wish to place women in combat units alongside men may do so without authorization from the secretary of defense or the White House.

One of the slides used at the briefing suggested the Army under Department of Defense policy "may" include service restrictions based on collocation, cost and other factors, and the Army would have to notify the secretary of defense in order to add restrictions. It also said the policy is silent on dropping restrictions.

The language choice is significant. In Aspin's 1994 memo, the word "may" appears after the four restrictions on women in combat. The word "propose" follows "may." Aspin did not say the Army has the power to act unilaterally, as the Nov. 29 briefers apparently contended when they claimed Army policy is "silent on dropping restrictions on women in combat." Adding weight to Aspin's memo is a July 28, 1994, letter from Aspin's successor, William Perry, who said he "approves" of the Army's "proposal."

Cal Thomas

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Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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