Women in the Army


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Part Two: Little Room for Women at the Top

Part Three: In a Crunch, Ban on Women Bends


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Women in the Army

A Trench Between Women, Jobs

Leann Fraka/Nancy Andrews/TWP
Chief Warrant Officer Leann Fraka says she has been the only female warrant officer in her battalion for two years.
(By Nancy Andrews/The Washington Post)

First of three articles

By Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 28, 1997; Page A01

BAUMHOLDER, Germany—When the Army sent Master Sgt. Dorothy Moses to the 2nd Brigade headquarters of the 1st Armored Division, she arrived in one of the first waves of an Army campaign to move women into its core business of fighting wars.

Before 1994, when the Army opened thousands of combat-related jobs to women, only male soldiers could serve in the 2nd Brigade, which for decades stood on the front lines of the Cold War. The changes made women eligible to fill prime jobs in intelligence and operations, and to command troops in units that were once closed to them.

But Moses and the 11 other women assigned by the Army to the headquarters here, none of them officers, do not work in these fields. They are supply clerks, administrators and a chaplain's assistant. Moses, the second highest ranking woman, runs the kitchen.

Billed as a major step toward gender integration of the country's largest military branch, the Army's policy has produced meager gains for women. The changes opened 20,000 positions to women for the first time in combat brigade headquarters and fields such as combat aviation, engineer bridge companies and intelligence jamming companies. Today, however, just 1,367 women have been sent to previously off-limits units. Most, like Moses, are doing jobs Army women have always done: providing food, supplies, medical care and office work.

Progress in moving women into new areas has been impeded by factors from open discrimination to informal preferences of local commanders, according to Army statistics, internal reports and scores of interviews.

Some women have been kept from jobs because commanders reject prospective candidates without experience in ground combat units. Because women are barred from such front-line combat units -- the only posts from which they are still legally excluded -- they can't qualify for some jobs that technically are now open to them.

The halting pace also is a reflection of what the Army describes as its intentionally slow, non-confrontational approach to assimilating women. Unlike the Navy and Air Force, which adopted more aggressive strategies, Army leaders have opted for "a natural evolution." Although women make up 15 percent of the Army, the highest percentage in U.S. history, the service has no plans to create a cadre of female leaders, to recruit women into jobs where they are scarce or to ensure that they are not assigned alone to units with hundreds of men.

"Historically the Army's approach is more common-sense and lasting," said Lt. Gen. Frederick Vollrath, the service's top personnel officer, who like other top officers compared integration of women with the integration of black and white troops that began in 1948. Historians say it took four decades until the number of black senior noncommissioned officers approached the percentage of African American soldiers overall.

"It took years to happen," Vollrath said.

The Army's policy is designed in part to avoid a "backlash" from its strongly male culture, Vollrath said. But for many women it has meant continuing frustration, as they find themselves left behind when men are promoted and kept from jobs that would help them form the network of connections essential to a successful military career. In a recent Army study of gender relations, more than half of women surveyed said they had been treated unfairly on the job because of their gender, twice as many as had complained of sexual harassment.

In the Germany-based 1st Armored Division, where The Washington Post collected data and conducted interviews last month to assess the movement of women into recently opened areas, such complaints are common. Both men and women say they are working without guidelines for adapting the exclusively male culture on which the service was built to one that depends also on women.

501 MP Company/Nancy Andrews/TWP
Staff Sgt. Ellen Casavantes, center, is the lone woman in a room full of sergeants with the 501 MP Company in Bad Kreuznach, Germany.
(By Nancy Andrews/The Washington Post)

The division, nicknamed "Old Ironsides," is one of the Army's premier fighting forces. Headquartered in Bad Kreuznach and scattered across southern Germany, the division joined the allied attack on Iraq during the Persian Gulf War. Its nearly 12,000 troops have been deployed to Bosnia, and units have been sent to Macedonia, Rwanda, Uganda and Zaire.

Women make up 9 percent of the division, and 5 percent of its officers, according to division statistics. All but one of the division's 16 highest ranking women work in logistics, supply and personnel, all traditional areas for women. In this sense, the division mirrors the Army as a whole. Nearly three-quarters of female officers and enlisted women work in these areas, along with finance, medical and transportation jobs.

When it comes to high ranking women in newly opened combat-related units, including combat brigade headquarters and air defense artillery, the division draws a blank: There are no senior or mid-level female officers or senior noncommissioned officers in any of these units, according to personnel records provided by the division and brigade commanders.

"You would expect to see mid-grade officers and NCOs in key, career-enhancing positions like operations, intelligence and command," said Lt. Col. Robert Carrington, head of the Army's office responsible for overseeing women's personnel issues, who has reviewed staffing at the division. "Until women are valued partners in the Army's first team, they will be institutionally discriminated against and have less opportunity."

What that means to Spc. Charmin Irving, who maintains the 2nd Brigade headquarters' small arms, is that a quarter-century after the Women's Army Corps was disbanded and they were allowed to join men in the all-volunteer Army, women still are unwelcome by some male colleagues. "I've had it told to me that men don't believe women should be in the Army," Irving said.

Combat Arms and the Hierarchy

Sgt. Anthony Craft/Nancy Andrews/TWP
Sgt. Anthony Craft addresses the female members of the 123rd Main Support Battalion in Dexheim, Germany.
(By Nancy Andrews/The Washington Post)

By any measure, the Army is not an ordinary workplace. Its 488,000 men and women vow to kill, and die, for the nation. For generations, the Army's structure has been geared to fighting a sustained, large-scale conventional war. Those who reach the top of its hierarchy traditionally have served in the combat arms closest to battle -- the infantry and armor -- areas that four years ago were completely closed to women.

After debate driven by women's battlefield contributions in the Persian Gulf War and national outrage over the harassment of women at the Navy Tailhook convention in Las Vegas, the Defense Department in 1993-94 opened about 260,000 combat-related jobs to women in all the services, including in the reserve and National Guard. More than half of these openings were on Navy warships.

As part of the measures, then-Defense Secretary Les Aspin also rescinded the "risk rule" that had barred women from inherently dangerous jobs, including Air Force bomber and fighter pilots and Navy warships. His decision was based, in part, on the development of high-tech weapons, such as Iraqi Scud missiles, that had put virtually all military personnel, not just those at the front, at risk during Desert Storm and foreseeable conflicts.

Women continue to be prohibited from serving in any role in units whose primary mission is engaging in ground combat, and in units that work directly with those organizations during wartime.

Each service was allowed to apply the new regulations as it saw fit. Nearly all Air Force jobs, including fighter and bomber pilots, were opened to women. All jobs in the Navy, except those on submarines and as special operations SEALs, are now open, although women are put on ships only as separate berthing spaces are built on vessels. Sixty-two percent of jobs in the much smaller Marine Corps are open to women.

For the first time, the Army allowed women to work at brigade headquarters of armor, infantry and special operations organizations. But women remain excluded from smaller combat battalions, companies and platoons that would go further forward, near or at the front line.

Army women also can now fly combat helicopters, be field artillery surveyors and join division military policy companies, engineer bridge companies, air cavalry troops, and military intelligence collection and jamming companies.

Announcing the changes in 1994, Edwin Dorn, then the Defense Department's personnel chief, called them "a tremendous step forward in terms of opportunity for this nation's women."

Interpretations of Integration

SPC Margaret Brown/Nancy Andrews/TWP
In the cafeteria, Spec. Margaret Brown shows off her dog made of dough for the upcoming Thanksgiving festivities.
(By Nancy Andrews/The Washington Post)

But for women in the Army, the gains have been limited.

A recent RAND study for the Defense Department found "official and unofficial assignment policies" in the Army that discriminate against women. "Some local commanders will not assign women to certain newly opened units because they have made their own interpretation . . . and concluded that some assignments that are officially open to women should be closed," RAND reported. Other commanders use women to fill administrative jobs, even though they may be trained in an operational specialty, the study found.

Job assignments in the Army are made largely through a computer matching system that pairs openings worldwide with individuals due for new postings. Rosters of matched candidates are sent to the personnel directors of each of the Army's 10 divisions. But there is still wide room for discretion: Commanders routinely compete for candidates, and in some instances commanders can use subjective hiring standards, including where a candidate has trained and whether an officer or enlisted soldier has combat experience.

In the 1st Armored Division, some commanders of newly opened units say they can't account for the high concentration of women in traditional fields and their scarcity in others. At the division's artillery headquarters, Col. Mark T. Kimmitt has 37 officers; none is a woman. Women in his command work in food services, personnel, supply, logistics and finance, and as medics, drivers, a chaplain's aide. Three women are surveyors and one is in operations.

"I don't have a choice," Kimmitt said of the distribution. "I'm assigned them."

Col. Volney J. Warner, commander of the 2nd Brigade, attributes the imbalance in part to a Catch-22: Some high-profile operations jobs now open to women require company or battalion experience that women are still excluded from by Army rules. The restrictions on women, he said, "turn out to be a negative for their professional development."

As in the rest of the Army, some women in the division are making significant strides in new jobs in intelligence, communications and police units, where their numbers are growing. The division's highest ranking enlisted woman, for example, and 10 young officers, mostly lieutenants, work at the 501st Military Intelligence Battalion.

Army studies and interviews indicate that women and men work well together in units where women are not novelties. Yet in many of the division's newly opened areas, women are so scarce as to be virtually alone among hundreds of men who have never before seen a woman in their unit. It is not a situation conducive to success, say women and men.

"You feel like you're invading on the males' camaraderie," said Pfc. Sarah Skogman, a 21-year-old medic assigned to a company of 100 men in the 40th Engineer Battalion in Bad Kreuznach. "I feel I always have to prove myself, that I'm not a typical don't-want-to-break-a-fingernail female."

On combat training exercises with her company, Skogman said she figured out on her own how to fit in. After two months on recent exercises, she became such a familiar part of her team that men would forget she was present when they needed to urinate, she said. But she also stood out, sleeping in a tracked vehicle for privacy and continuously asked by commanders whether any male soldiers were bothering her.

The result, she said, was to segregate her from her team. "They were trying to do the integration thing and they went overboard," she said. "Everyone does so much tiptoeing around."

Women are as isolated in other combat-related units in the 1st Armored Division. Only 16 women, none of them officers, work in the 16th Engineer Battalion of 450 people. Twenty-four enlisted women work among the 403 men in the 70th Engineer Battalion. Of 90 pilots at the 501st Aviation Regiment, three are women.

One of the pilots, Capt. Krista Bonino, said that numbers like these contribute to skepticism and in some cases hostility from male colleagues. After Bonino became the first female pilot of a scout helicopter in the 1st Squadron of the 1st Cavalry Regiment, she said she was the subject of repeated rumors about her sex life.

"The reality is, they don't want to accept it. . . . You're not going to change the way old guys think," Bonino said on the foggy tarmac at Hanau, where she works with the 501st Aviation Regiment. "You're just going to have to wait for them to go away."

In May 1996, Bonino and all other Kiowa Warrior scout helicopter pilots turned in their aircraft for modernization. Since then the cavalry regiment has had no other female pilots. An officer in charge of assignments at the 501st said that an officer at the cavalry regiment recently asked the 501st to take a woman who had been assigned to the cavalry so that the cavalry might get a man instead. Army officials denied the charge.

As for Bonino, the Army hasn't found her another flying job. She now works in community relations in the 501st.

With 50 women among the Army's 1,500 combat aviators, Army officials say they have no specific effort underway to recruit more women into aviation. At the 501st, Chief Warrant Officer Leann Fraka said she has taken on that job herself. "I've been the only female warrant [officer] in this battalion for two years," she said. "Any female I see, who doesn't wear glasses or contacts, I say, `Hey, maybe you want to go to flight school.' "

Army officials acknowledge that mid-grade female officers and senior enlisted women are lagging behind male peers in promotions, but they say they have been unable to pinpoint a cause for the discrepancy.

"Sometimes it takes a minority population a little longer to adapt to the Army culture," said Vollrath.

Master Sgt. Moses, who runs the mess halls in the 2nd Brigade headquarters, has her own theory. Her goal is to become the senior noncommissioned officer in a combat arms headquarters like the one she's in now. She's airborne qualified, was exhilarated by her deployment in Desert Storm and would "love the challenge" of heading a mostly male unit. But, she said, "I don't think they would accept me. They prefer that male perspective."

The Army has never undertaken a concerted effort to prepare men for the "new social order" introduced by the inclusion of women in the ranks, said retired Brig. Gen. Evelyn "Pat" Foote, who was the senior Women's Army Corps adviser helping to integrate women into all-male units in 1974.

"Without any preparation of the environment, the women arrived in one[s] or two[s] or sometimes 30," recalled Foote, who co-chaired the senior review panel on sexual harassment this year that found many women complaining about job discrimination. "It was a setup for disaster. It's too late to slow it down now, but we've never got it right."

Lt. Col. Diana Chapel/Nancy Andrews/TWP
In the COSCOM, which has long been open to women, Lt. Col. Diana Chapel is commander of the 71st Battalion.
(By Nancy Andrews/The Washington Post)

It wasn't until this year that the Army started offering office uniforms for women in a greater variety of sizes using a system that the Navy and Air Force had adopted years ago. The Army's camouflage battle dress uniforms are still cut only for the male physique and women who wear them complain about looking like little men.

While the Air Force and Navy allow men and women to carry umbrellas when in the uniforms required at the Pentagon, in the Army only women may carry them. Many women consider this a not-so-subtle put-down. "The regulation is clear, and we follow regulations in the Army," Chief of Staff Gen. Dennis J. Reimer has said on the issue.

Today, the Army organization designed to help the culture change, called the Equal Opportunity Program, is a shambles, according to the Army panel on sexual harassment. About 50 percent of the nearly 600 jobs in the program went unfilled this year, and program officers are routinely ignored by commanders and distrusted by soldiers, the panel found. The Army has promised to reengineer the program, and has already increased staffing.

In the 1st Armored Division, the failure to prepare for women meant that Command Sgt. Maj. Lyle Otineru of the 40th Engineer Brigade had to improvise to deal with women's physical differences. Seven of the eight members of his medic crew are women.

"In some cases we kind of cringe when we get them," Otineru said of the women.

One day, to test his doubts, he walked into the medical station, fell to the ground and challenged women to haul him from an imaginary battlefield. Everyone was troubled by how difficult this basic task proved. So the soldiers developed their own physical training regiment that included extra marches with rucksacks.

"I can see a difference in them," said Otineru, who looks twice the size of any of the medics and has been in the Army 28 years. "They took it to heart. They heard my concerns. We can do it, as long as we're up front with them about what we need them to do.

"We can adapt," he said with a shrug. "We'll make it work. We always do."

Next: Competing to be a general's aide

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