Aspin to Shift Combat Role For Women

OUTGOING Defense Secretary Les Aspin is expected to announce a new policy this week that would help open more jobs for women in ground-combat units, the Pentagon says.

Secretary Aspin, who last year moved to help open combat aviation jobs and warship assignments to women, may stay in office until his successor, Ret. Adm. Bobby Inman, is confirmed by the Senate. The Senate reconvenes the last week in January.

The most lethal Army and Marine units used to search and destroy the enemy - like infantry and armor units - will not be affected by the announcement.

Pentagon officials said agreement has been reached with services to better define ``direct combat.'' A previous draft had cast it in terms that could be used to exclude women even from jobs they hold and keep them from jobs Aspin tried to open to them, one Pentagon source said.

At a briefing Tuesday, Pentagon spokeswoman Kathleen deLaski said the services will have several months to study which jobs will be affected. ``It's something that services will have to take and then interpret,'' she says.

But the change could open more slots for women in areas on the fringe of combat, like engineering or air-defense artillery. While women would not be in an engineering unit that bulldozes front-line berms and defensive trenches, it's possible they could serve in those that clear mines or prepare defensive positions in advance of battle.

Last week, Ms. deLaski said that since Aspin announced his new policy in April, the Army has opened 9,000-plus attack helicopter positions to women, and the Navy has expanded flying squadrons open to women from 42 to 200.

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