WASHINGTON — Just as in many sectors of the civilian world, the United States military is under pressure to break down the barriers between the sexes.
But just as with civilian society, the male-dominated services have had to confront the dark side of human behavior, grappling with a slew of cases that have drawn attention to serious problems of sexual abuse and compelled the Pentagon to seek solutions.
On Tuesday, a special panel appointed by Defense Secretary William Cohen to review gender-integrated training in the wake of the sexual-misconduct cases suggested that the Army, Navy, and Air Force reverse course.
The panel, headed by former GOP senator Nancy Kassebaum Baker of Kansas, recommends a return to greater segregation in basic and advanced training, the first two levels of training. It contends that close contact in boot camp between the sexes contributes to a variety of problems.
"The committee observed that, although the main aim of the Army, Navy, and Air Force's 'train as we fight' doctrine is to instill teamwork and discipline, the present organizational structure in integrated basic training is resulting in less discipline, less unit cohesion, and more distraction from the training programs," the report says.
The report, which also calls for tougher physical standards for female recruits, will fuel the debate over the roles of women in the military. Women make up about 14 percent of the 1.4 million-strong armed forces.
Avoiding the problem?
The recommendations are counterproductive, critics charge, because they fail to address discriminatory male attitudes toward women, the root causes of the military's sexual-abuse problems. Instead, they say, the report reinforces the idea that women should be treated differently.
"There is a tendency to view women as second-class citizens in the military. This is a setback for women," says Jeff Whitman, a retired Army major who teaches philosophy at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pa. "We need to integrate women more and give them full standing. Once they have that, they will no longer put up with abuses."
He points out that it was by fully integrating African-Americans that the services were able to make greater strides than civilian society in tackling racism.
The panel's findings that gender-integrated training hurts discipline and encourages misconduct will bolster support in Congress for GOP-sponsored legislation to return to segregated basic training.
The Marine Corps way
The panel's view is closer to that of the Marine Corps, which keeps men and women separated in basic training and then integrates them immediately afterward in a special 17-day program.
But this approach is rejected by many senior officers in the Army, Navy, and Air Force. They are convinced that to fight wars, men and women must be conditioned to work together from their first day in boot camp.
"I totally disagree with this notion that you build a soldier first and then you build a gender-integrated soldier," says one senior officer. "If you are going to build something, you need to start on Day 1."
The panel's report is to be digested over three months by the Army, Navy, and Air Force. They will then report back to Mr. Cohen on feasibility and costs and how changes might affect military readiness.
In urging that the three services do more to separate men and women recruits, the panel recommended a return to segregation at the lowest organizational levels, or Army platoons, Navy divisions, and Air Force flights.
Among other things, men and women should be housed separately, but they should continue to train together in classrooms and in the field, the report says.