Women have proved to be so valuable in today's Army that "serious consideration" should be given to drafting them if Congress should decide to restore the draft, Gen. Bernard W. Rogers, Army chief of staff, said in an interview yesterday.
The nation's top-ranking soldier, who has been in his job for six months, said the day of Army women being confined to nursing or clerical roles has long since passed. Rogers said the Army is currently conducting its first field test on how many more women it could effectively use.
He predicted that the tests will show that women should comprise more than the current 6 per cent slice of the active duty force of 779,000 people. Most of the Army's women are in the enlisted ranks, with this year's total of 46,600 enlisted and officers scheduled to rise to 50,400 by the end of fiscal 1979.
Rogers said that although the prospect of "women with rifles and fixed bayonets holding a forward position gives me heartburn," women could still serve effectively in combat roles farther to the rear. The Army has had no trouble attracting high quality women to its ranks. But it has had trouble at times filling its quotas for men since the draft ended in 1973. So Army leaders are under pressure to keep up with the quality of their force by enlisting more women.
Rogers said today's volunteer Army is the best one ever fielded, adding that neither he nor his senior commanders want to give up on it and return to the draft. His big concern, Rogers said, is filling up the ranks of the Army reserve units.
One reason he and other commanders oppose returning of the draft, Rogers said, is that the people in the Army now are well motivated and performing well. He reeled off a list of statistical improvements between 1974 and 1976 to make that point: Desertion down 60 per cent; absent without official leave down 48 per cent; jail population down 45 per cent, and violent crimes down 17 per cent.
The Army chief of staff acknowledged, however, that marijuana use is rising.
Rogers said he was optimistic about filling the thousands of vacancies in the reserve units over the next few years, declaring that Congress appears to favor voting the educational benefits and bonuses the Army is requesting to attract volunteers.
Asked about the prospects of the Army being unionized, Rogers said he favors passage of a law to prohibit that. His position differs from that of Defense Secretary Harold Brown, who has not endorsed an anti-union bill for fear of overreacting.
To dampen the appeal that unions have to some military people, Rogers recommended that "a moratorium" be declared on any changes in military benefits until after the whold subject is studied in depth. The changes should be made all at once, if they are deemed necessary, Rogers said and explained fully to military people.