Letters to the Editor. Women and the US Air Force

I want to take exception to several statements in the Sept. 4 article entitled, ``What role for military women?'' Mr. William V. Kennedy badly misses the mark insofar as the United States Air Force is concerned. His accusations that we have eliminated ``. . . thousands of women from jobs for which they had enlisted . . .'' are simply contrary to the facts. Since 1981, this administration has opened over 30,000 positions to women in the Air Force. All career fields (pilots, navigators, weapons directors, security police, missile crew members) are open to women officers. Of the 300 Air Force enlisted specialties, all but four (aerial g unner, para-rescue, tactical air command and control, and combat control specialist) are open to women. We do exclude women from some specific, combat-related positions within otherwise open career fields (fighter pilots, bomber pilots) in compliance with federal law. In fact, since coming to office we have opened 50 percent of the positions that were formerly closed to women because of the combat exclusion. This past spring our liberal interpretation of the law has allowed us to open 800 more positions to women. Over 95 percent of all Air Force jobs are open to women.

Mr. Kennedy's implication that pregnancies result in mandatory termination of military careers is also in error. In the late 1970s, we did away with the policy of discharging women who become pregnant. Women today continue to perform their duties during pregnancy. If they are performing duties that might be hazardous to themselves or the fetus, they are reassigned to other duties.

(Similarly, a male fireman with a broken leg is temporarily reassigned.) After the pregnancy the woman's career is far from over. One month after her baby is born she is expected to fulfill all responsibilities just as she did before the birth -- and, in fact they do.

Women are vital members of the Air Force team. We have the highest percentage of women of any of the services, 11.4 percent. This year, 17 percent of our enlisted recruits will be women, and we plan to increase that to about 19 percent in 1986.

I share Mr. Kennedy's concern for the future of women in the military, and appreciate this opportunity to set the record straight. Verne Orr Secretary of the Air Force Washington -William V. Kennedy replies: What Secretary Orr isn't telling us is that his percentages are far below the minimal 25 percent goal set last year by the House Armed Services Committee, even allowing for exclusion of women from combat flying assignments. That exclusion, of course, is what closes all meaningful advancement to women and keeps them in permanent second-class status.-

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