As Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston caps the latest flurry of sexual misconduct cases, the spotlight has never shone so brightly on the military's difficulties in adjusting to the huge influx of women recruits over the past 20 years.
Even as the storm eases over General Ralston, who has ceded his shot at the military's top job, debate over how the armed forces deal with male-female relations is unlikely to abate. And it remains to be seen whether the attention will bring order and consistency to questions of human behavior that are handled differently within - and between - the services.
The Pentagon is launching three reviews into the armed forces' handling of adultery and other issues, including how far superiors can delve into the private lives of personnel. Meanwhile, calls in Congress to end co-ed basic training are certain to keep the issue alive on Capitol Hill.
Jeffrey Whitman, a philosophy professor at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania and former Army officer says he thinks the military will have a tougher time integrating women than it did with minorities. But, he adds, just as with racial integration, "I think ... they will probably do a better job of integrating women than ... society at large."
Others disagree. Todd Ensign, head of the New York City-based advocacy group Citizen Soldier, worries the new reviews ordered by Defense Secretary William Cohen are aimed only at taking the heat off the Pentagon and will not produce meaningful changes. "It will be yet another whitewash," he says. "They will cook the books to produce results that tend to validate their past actions."
Defense officials insist that any defects in regulations on fraternization, adultery, sexual harassment, and other issues will be fixed. "We're really trying to take constructive steps to ensure that the policies that are so critical to good order and discipline in the all-volunteer force are fair and are clear," says a senior defense official.
But the military makes it clear there are limits to the changes it will accept. It has strongly defended co-ed basic training. Nor does it plan to decriminalize adultery, but simply ensure that commanders are consistent in how they apply the ban.
IT was a widespread perception that the military holds different standards in pursuing sexual misconduct cases that forced Ralston to withdraw from the running for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Mr. Cohen had refused to drop Ralston as a candidate after the general, a decorated fighter pilot and current vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, admitted to having an affair 13 years ago while separated from his wife.
Cohen's action stood in stark contrast to the military's reaction to other adultery cases. In May, 1st Lt. Kelly Flinn, the first female B-52 bomber pilot, took a general discharge in May rather than face a court-martial, and a general accepted early retirement after admitting to adultery five years ago during a split with his wife. Other senior officers have been stripped of their commands.
Faced with charges of double standard, Cohen ordered Pentagon legal officials to review the adultery regulations. The goal, he says, is to ensure they "are fair, and consistently applied." He is also convening a task force of senior military and civilian defense officials to examine how the military has dealt with transgressions of other regulations designed to ensure "good order and discipline" within the 1.2 million-strong force.
The multifaceted review will examine whether some services' strictures on fraternization are overly rigid. Notes John Williams, an expert on military issues at Loyola University in Chicago: "I see no advantage to preventing some military people from dating one another. There are too many successful military families."
The task force is also expected to consider how deeply the military should be allowed to pry into members' private lives. In a third initiative, Cohen is also forming a civilian commission to examine co-ed training. The review comes amid calls by some members of Congress for an end to co-ed basic training. A bill to halt integrated basic training has been introduced in the House and there is some support for the idea in the Senate.