By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
A House measure aimed at keeping women out of combat would bar female soldiers from at least 21,925 Army jobs that are now open to them, a senior Army official said yesterday.
The projection of lost jobs comes as opposition to the proposed ban spreads from the Army's senior leadership to include associations representing nearly 145,000 current and former Army and National Guard members.
Lt. Gen. James L. Campbell, director of the Army staff, provided the figure in what Army officials said was a narrow interpretation of the potential impact of the measure passed May 11 by a panel of the House Armed Services Committee, which would ban women from serving in certain support units in an effort to keep them out of "direct ground combat."
"If the amendment . . . to prohibit the assignment of female soldiers to Forward Support Companies (FSC)" applied only to such companies in heavy, infantry, and Stryker brigade combat teams, "a total of 21,925 spaces currently open for assignment to female soldiers would be closed," Campbell wrote in a letter delivered yesterday to Rep. Ike Skelton (Mo.), the committee's ranking Democrat.
In contrast, Republican proponents of the measure said it would affect only a few dozen jobs.
Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) seeks to compel the Army to comply with a 1994 Pentagon regulation that bars female soldiers from direct ground combat units below brigade level, said a statement released yesterday by a spokesman for Hunter.
"Presently, the Army is unilaterally assigning servicewomen in land combat units. The committee's intent simply is to codify current Department of Defense regulations," the statement said. Lawmakers and staff indicated that the measure's wording will be different when it is presented for a full committee vote, probably today. The Army says it is complying with the policy.
In a letter yesterday, 27 Democrats on the committee called on Hunter to strike the measure, an amendment to the defense authorization bill, saying it would "tie the hands of military commanders in a time of war" and undercut recruiting and careers of women.
Leading Army groups also rallied to oppose it. Retired Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, president of the Association of the United States Army and a former Army chief of staff, wrote to the committee this week that the proposed ban would be "confusing" and "detrimental to units."
Opponents also argued that the notion of a clear front line has evaporated in today's insurgent conflicts, casting doubt on the practicality of the effort to restrict women from combat. "Today combat may occur in the desert or on Main Street," wrote retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Stephen M. Koper, president of the National Guard Association of the United States.