Kathleen Parker

It's been 25 years since Goldie Hawn played the unlikely military enlistee, Pvt. Judy Benjamin, who discovered the Army wasn't what she'd had in mind when she signed up for travel and adventure.

But that was then, and it was fiction besides. Now, we know that women soldiers are just like men soldiers. Or so we're supposed to believe.

Flashback to two weeks ago: I'm washing my hands in an airport restroom in Columbia, S.C., wedged at the sink between two blondes gleefully applying makeup. When I ease past one to reach a paper towel, she apologetically blurts:

"You'll have to excuse us, we haven't seen makeup in three months!"

Revlon should have had a hidden camera. Rarely has anyone enjoyed the feminine joys of lipstick and mascara with such unabashed relish.

The two were "soldiers" just out of basic training at Fort Jackson. Both were leaving the Army because of medical problems - one with arthritis, the other asthma - that hadn't been diagnosed when they enlisted.

If they had looked like soldiers earlier in the day, they didn't now. They looked more like sorority sisters, giggly and equally excited to let down their hair, which they'd had to keep pulled in a bun during training. They confessed to having spent the morning binging on candy bars and other junk food they'd missed.

I took their names and numbers, explaining that I might write about them, but have decided to protect their identities out of consideration for their privacy and in light of what I'm about to say. With apologies:

If these two were what the U.S. Army considers soldiers, we're in trouble. The gals probably would agree.

When I asked why they had joined the Army when we're at war, which can flat-out ruin a manicure, they reported wanting to escape their small towns and earn college tuition. Both now were headed home to minimum-wage jobs. One hoped to save enough money to go to cosmetology school, which seemed like an inspired idea.

Obviously, two young women escaping the mistake they'd made three months earlier are not representative of the military as a whole, but these giggly-girl soldiers may be symbolic of a larger problem - not so much recruiting promises that fall short, but the Army's stubborn insistence on gender-based recruiting quotas for women and coed training.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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