IN THE MEN'S HOUSE
An Inside Account of Life
In the Army by One of West
Point's First Female Graduates
By Capt. Carol Barkalow with Andrea Raab
Poseidon. 283 pp. $19.95
CAPT. CAROL BARKALOW is a product of middle America who aspired to be in the first class of women at West Point out of a strong sense of patriotism and a desire to achieve something significant. She successfully completed West Point's rigorous academic and professional program, while earning four varsity letters and gaining the parachutist qualification. After graduating in 1980 and commissioning as a second lieutenant, she commanded a platoon in an air defense missile battalion in Germany and a truck company in a quartermaster battalion at Fort Lee, Va., responsible for 150 personnel. She is currently assigned to the office of the chief of staff of the Army in Washington, involved in counternarcotics and strategic mobility planning.
In her fine book she presents a very moving and graphic account of the challenges the first female cadets surmounted at West Point and the important contribution that women are currently making in the Army. Her experience is similar to that of the women in the other services. I hope this book will be read widely in our country, for it will help our society better define the appropriate role of women in the military. Most important, the book convincingly demonstrates that women fully possess the essential attributes required in the profession of arms.
The significance of women's successful performance at the service academies is broader than the mere fact that our country produces women who can achieve such a feat. The service academies are the model of professional excellence in our armed forces, which all officer accession programs strive to emulate. Before women's roles could be significantly expanded in the military and women could have full credibility and acceptance in the officer corps, it was essential that they be admitted to the service academies.
This book will help dispel once and for all the myths which were advanced in the 1970s as to why women should not move into nontraditional fields in the military, i.e., standards would be lowered at the service academies, fraternization would be a serious problem, women would experience an excessive loss-time due to pregnancy and men would lose their effectiveness in integrated units because of their instinctive urge to protect women in dangerous situations.
At the U.S. Naval Academy the admission of women actually strengthened standards because of their example of maturity, intelligence, professionalism, dedication, courage and toughness. This is fully confirmed by the author's account of her experiences at West Point. As also discussed in her book, in surveys conducted by the Navy, women, even with the pregnancy factor, actually incur less loss-time than men because of their better conduct records and attendant lower incidence of AWOL and disciplinary confinement.
Additional surveys conducted by the Defense Department reveal that over 60 percent of military women, officer and enlisted, have experienced sexual harassment of varying degrees in the armed forces. The male chauvinistic ethic is deeply ingrained in the American culture, as in most other nations of the world. In particular, as this book demonstrates, the macho spirit is very strong among the males attending the service academies. History reveals that prejudices change slowly within groups and societies, usually more from external influences than through pressures generated internally. The leadership of the military simply must maintain effective troop education programs on the important role of women, intensive sexual harassment training and strong sanctions in cases of improper treatment of women.
Finally, the book identifies the urgent need to develop a more relevant national policy with regard to the role of women in combat. There is a common misperception among our citizens that U.S. law precludes involvement of women in combat. Title X of the U.S. Code, which defines the roles of the military, states only that women will not serve in combatant ships or airplanes. There is no addressal of their role in the ground forces. The Army and the Marines preclude women from those duties which might involve them in close ground combat with any enemy, because they perceive this approach complies with the spirit of the law. But the U.S. public must understand that 229,000 or 11 percent of our 2.1 million personnel in the armed forces are women. Their roles are so broad and vital to military functions today that in the event of war, they will be extensively involved in combat. Our citizens can be assured that women will conduct themselves in hostilities with great credit, as occurred in Grenada and Panama, and as will occur if war erupts in the Middle East, where over 15,000 women are deployed on land and sea alongside their male counterparts. I feel that the Title X provisions are no longer appropriate and that the only two criteria which should be allowed to limit the military role of women are feminine physical strength/endurance limitations, and mixed male-female quarters restrictions in some military settings. The reference to women in combat should be deleted from Title X and the secretary of defense should be allowed to employ both males and females as deemed most effective, considering the two criteria above.
Besides the American tradition of fairness and equal opportunity, there is another compelling reason why the limits to the military role of women should be removed: The armed forces critically need the talent and dedication they can provide. Capt. Barkalow's book superbly demonstrates this fact. She has rendered a great service to the nation both by her book and her sterling professional example in her career.
Vice Adm. William P. Lawrence (USN-Ret.) was superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy from 1978 to 1981.