Should women be assigned to the firing line - the one with real bullets? Brig. Gen. D. E. Munro has the task of finding out for the Canadian Armed Forces: He's in charge of what is termed ``combat-related employment of women, trials.''
A year ago, Defense Minister Perrin Beatty announced that the Defense Department would conduct trials of women in combat roles in Canada's military. Since Canada is not at war with any nation, the trials will involve only simulated warfare.
``The fundamental principle involved here is that every Canadian citizen has equal rights and responsibilities when it comes to the defense of this country,'' Mr. Beatty said.
Among the industrial nations, only Norway and Denmark allow women in combat roles in the army and navy, and the Netherlands in the navy alone. Israel, contrary to what many believe, does not send its female soldiers into combat. They perform support roles.
Beatty says Canada stands in the forefront of national military forces in the employment of women. Canada's combined forces employ some 8,100 women, or 9.3 percent of total personnel, a higher proportion than any other NATO nation. Just over 100 of 135 occupations in the military are currently open to women.
Last July, the Canadian Air Force was opened entirely to women, with the exception of helicopter attachments to naval destroyers. Women can fly fighter planes, maritime air-patrol aircraft, and tactical helicopters. At the moment, the Air Force has some 20 female pilots, with more in training.
General Munro has been organizing the trials, which are expected to open up more military jobs to women. After women have been trained for their new jobs, the performance of mixed female-male units will be tested for two years, starting in 1989.
First, however, the armed forces must find women willing to sign up for the combat jobs. This, Munro said in an interview, has been relatively easy for the Navy.
But women already in the armed forces have not been volunteering for Army jobs. These include 249 combat jobs, such as infantry, armor, artillery, engineers, and signals - all jobs where the possibility of getting killed or wounded in a war are higher.
One reason, Munro says, is that personnel making such a job switch would have to go back to the rank (though not pay level) of corporal and take basic training in their new trade for six months.
Munro expects to recruit the women for these combat jobs from outside the armed forces. A small advertising campaign began in December. ``There are a lot of women looking for a challenge,'' he says.
Those volunteering face a strength test that varies according to the job sought. If seeking to join the artillery or armor corps, they must be able to lift 45 kilos (99 pounds) over their heads, a test reflecting the need to lift heavy ammunition.
``Only one woman in 100 will pass that 45-kilo test,'' says Munro. ``Lots of men don't make it. But we will not lower the standards established for the trades.''
However, he adds that women are not ``on trial'' as a sex. ``What we are trying to test is whether the fighting efficiency of a unit is reduced by having a mix of women and men in a unit.''
The proportion of ``servicewomen'' will be made high in most units - 50 percent - so that the men can't assist the women in their tasks.
``The women will have to do the job themselves,'' he says. ``We are training for war.''