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Military and Civilian Leaders Press Congress for Oversight on Women in Direct Ground Combat

June 5, 2015
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The Issue is Oversight – Does Congress Care about Women in the Military?

Nearly 100 distinguished retired military and civilian organization leaders have co-signed a Military Culture Coalition (MCC) letter expressing concerns about the lack of congressional oversight on the issue of women being ordered into direct ground combat units such as the infantry:

Military/Civilian Letter to Chairman John McCain

Re: Women in Direct Ground Combat

Co-signers of the MCC letter include a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, high-ranking former leaders of the Marine Corps, Army, Navy, and Air Force, decorated land combat veterans, and influential leaders of civilian organizations that support sound policies in our military.  Some newly-elected members of Congress, such as Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-M) and Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK) (pictured) are taking the issue seriously, but others clearly are not.

MCC letter co-signers sent identical letters to the Chairmen of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Rep. "Mac" Thornberry (R-TX) on May 21.  As stated in the MCC letter,

Plans for implementation are advancing without congressional oversight, even though extensive research and tests since 2012 have yet to produce any findings or empirical data that support the case for women in direct ground combat.  We hope you agree that policy changes affecting all military women − and eventually civilian women of Selective Service registration age − should be rooted in reality, science, and experience, not theories and unsupported assumptions.

“Given that premise, we ask that committee members insist on the opportunity to receive and review all research findings before controversial policies are implemented.  We also ask that the committee avoid taking any action that would accelerate flawed policies known to increase risks of debilitating injury and mission failure for both women and men in the combat arms.”

The committee chairmen and members also received this concise 2-page fact sheet, which summarizes the results of research done on the issue of women in combat in the United States and Great Britain: 

2015 Interim Fact Sheet -- Women in Direct Ground Combat (DGC)

 The MCC letter continued,

“Complete results of Marine Corps and Army research have not been officially disclosed, but known interim findings and empirical data are worrisome.  Direct ground combat assignments would weaken combat effectiveness, while steeply increasing debilitating injuries among women.  Why would Congress accept policies known to increase the number of physically-disabled female veterans?  (emph. added)

“There are no career benefits here.  For decades, women have been promoted at rates equal to or faster than men.  However, treating women as if they are interchangeable with men in the combat arms will consign them to second class status.  Most women who are less strong than male counterparts will be disadvantaged by efficiency reports that negatively affect career prospects.”

Despite New Allies, House Disappoints in NDAA Markup

During a sparsely-attended mark-up session on May 29, the House Armed Services Committee drafted the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2016 (NDAA).  

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) who has established a pattern of sponsoring controversial feminist amendments at the last minute, revealed a proposal that appeared to take Chairman Thornberry by surprise.  Sanchez wanted to repeal the law requiring the Department of Defense to notify Congress of policy changes regarding women in direct ground combat.

  • The long-standing notification law, which Sanchez misconstrued as a “waiting period,” requires formal notice to Congress at least 30 continuous legislative days in advance, when both houses are in session. 
  • Statutory law also requires an analysis of the impact of proposed policy changes on Selective Service obligations. This provision exists because legal experts have predicted that if women become eligible for direct ground combat units, federal courts likely would order civilian women to register for Selective Service and a possible future draft on the same basis as men.  

If the case for ordering women into direct ground combat units has been made ˗ and research so far shows that it hasn't ˗ Sanchez’ high-handed move to preclude congressional oversight would not be necessary. 

Decisions on matters such as this, affecting all military communities and civilian women as well, should be made by accountable members of Congress, not federal courts.  But Congresswoman Sanchez, who is now a candidate for the U.S. Senate, is more interested in pushing her feminist agenda. 

Sanchez and committee colleagues Susan Davis (D-CA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Niki Tsongas (D-MA), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Arizona Republican Martha McSally failed to understand that the notification law is about congressional oversight, not women in the military.   

Arguments of the outspoken women started to sound lame when two committee freshmen, Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT) and Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK), challenged the Sanchez amendment.  Both men spoke about direct ground combat with confidence and credibility.  Rep. Zinke is a former Navy SEAL whose daughter is a Navy diver, and Rep. Russell is a veteran of infantry combat.

Separately, New York Democrat Rep. Seth Moulton, a former Marine officer who served in Iraq, successfully sponsored an NDAA amendment that would add to the notification law a third criterion, requiring the Secretary of Defense to ensure as part of gender neutral standards: “[the] combat readiness of combat units, including Special Operations Forces.” 

Proclaiming that 'There is a role and mission for everyone' in the armed forces, Zinke expressed concerns about the physical demands in direct ground combat units such as the infantry and Special Operations Forces. Missions of these units, which go beyond the experience of being "in harm's way" in a war zone, involve seeking out and attacking the enemy with deliberate offensive action. 

Rep. Russell cited reports predicting disproportionate injuries that women would suffer if they are required to carry the same burdens as men.  In particular, Russell cited a recent British Ministry of Defence Report, analyzed by the Center for Military Readiness in February, which noted that even unusually strong “physically elite” women still are subject to debilitating injuries at rates far great than men.

When it started to look like the Sanchez amendment might fail, Congresswoman Davis suggested a substitute amendment that would reduce the notification period to only 30 calendar days.  The limited time period, which could be triggered by an administrative order while Congress is out of session, would invite unfettered administration action with no oversight or public scrutiny at all. 

With a weak voice-vote, the House committee approved the substitute amendment, signaling a willingness to surrender policy-making authority of the legislative branch on a matter of paramount importance.  Signers of the Military Culture Coalition letter have asked House members to reconsider the ill-advised bill language, and senators to non-concur with it.  The Senate will vote on its version of the bill sometime in June.

Decisions by Default Disrespect Military Women

Regardless of the number of notification days, the question is whether members of Congress care enough about military women to pay attention to their concernsand best interests Respect for both women in the military requires diligent congressional oversight, to include open hearings with non-Defense Department experts and an objective review of research findings produced since 2012.

Starting in 2005 and up to the present time, policy changes have been implemented with little or no congressional oversight.  The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) has not heard testimony about women in combat since 1991, 24 years ago.

With the exception of five minutes in 1993, neither the Senate nor the House found time to hear testimony about the findings of the 1992 Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Services, which recommended that most of women’s combat exemptions be retained.  The House Armed Services Committee has not held hearings on the subject since 1979, 36 years ago. 

Given these years of inattention and neglect, Congress and the Senate have an even greater responsibility to ask serious questions about policies that would impose on female soldiers heavier burdens and greater risks than military women have ever faced in America’s history. 

While looking away for decades, Congress and the Senate have allowed major media and a few aggressively feminist members to push for co-ed land combat as something “good” for women.  Never mind that an official Army survey found that 92.5% of female soldiers said they do not want to be assigned to direct ground combat units.  

Multiple studies and reports over the past thirty years have confirmed that female personnel would suffer disproportionate injuries that would shorten their careers and possibly their lives.   

Unless military leaders ask for exceptions, the Obama Administration plans to order “gender integration” in the combat arms, including the Ranger Regiment, Delta Force, and Navy SEALs, by January 2016.  This controversial, unprecedented policy change would affect all men and women in every military community, and very likely would affect civilian women of Selective Service registration age as well. 

Pentagon officlals are not even considering the impact on mission capabilities; the stated goal is "gender diversity metrics," another name for quotas.

No one knows what military leaders will recommend or if they will request exceptions to policy.  The fact remains that these decisions should be made by accountable, elected officials, not administration officials, gender diversity ideologues, or academics seeking Defense Department contracts for more “study.”

If members of the Senate and Congress really want to show respect for military women, they can start by taking this issue seriously, asking questions and challenging false assumptions during oversight hearings that are long overdue.    

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The Center for Military Readiness, founded in 1993, is an independent public policy organization that reports on and analyzes military/social issues.  Please consider making a generous contribution to the Center for Military Readiness by clicking on the easy-to-use, secure website, linked here.  Readers also can help by sharing this article and “liking” the CMR Facebook page.


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