Revisiting Integration of Sexes in US Military
Army's McKinney cleared of harassment Friday, but Congress tackles larger issue Tuesday.
Until recently, at the US Army's largest training base at Fort Jackson, S.C., some male drill sergeants were so nervous about potential sexual-harassment charges that they ordered male and female trainees to stand three feet apart in the mess hall line.Skip to next paragraph
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Men and women soldiers were also forbidden from talking together or touching one another, even to secure the feet of a fellow trainee doing sit-ups.
"It's been almost a siege mentality," says Major Mat Moten, a Fort Jackson training commander who until recently oversaw 1,200 male and female soldiers undergoing basic training at the fort.
The eruption of high-profile sexual-harassment cases - such as those at the Army's advanced training base in Aberdeen, Md., and more recently with the trial of Army Sgt. Maj. Gene McKinney - have had strong repercussions on male-female relations in large parts of the US military, experts say.
On Friday, Sergeant Major McKinney was acquitted of 18 counts involving six military women who accused him of sexual harassment. He was found guilty of a charge of obstructing justice.
Such cases are driving a far-reaching, high-level debate over whether recent experiments in the decades-long effort to more fully integrate women and men in the military - as in Fort Jackson's basic-training program - have gone too far.
On Tuesday, Congress is scheduled to begin hearings with testimony from ranking leaders of all the nation's armed services on the question of gender integration. Also this week, Defense Secretary William Cohen will weigh new recommendations on whether men and women should be resegregated for much of basic and advanced training. The recommendations follow a review launched last December after a special panel concluded that segregation of male and female recruits is warranted.
Although the debate focuses on concerns such as readiness and the rigor of training, experts say it is often framed by more deep-seated ideological differences over the place of women in the US military.
"A lot of people are still not happy with women in the military." says David Segal, director of the Center for Research on Military Organization at the University of Maryland in College Park, Md.
The number of women in military service has steadily expanded since the 1970s, with women currently representing nearly 14 percent of the 1.4 million active duty personnel, compared with only 1.6 percent in 1973. Nevertheless, bringing men and women together in basic training began as recently as 1994 in the Army and Navy, for example.
Opponents of integration argue that it is distracting for the young recruits and lowers standards. Authors of the Kassebaum Baker report, for example, said the Army, Navy, and other services should follow the example of the Marine Corps, which has strongly resisted integration of basic training.
The outbreak of sexual harassment cases - such as the Navy's 1991 Tailhook scandal and incidents of rape and sexual assault revealed in late 1996 at the Army's Aberdeen Proving Grounds - have fueled such arguments.