DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
January 25, 1994

COMBAT DUTY IS NOT AN ADVANCE FOR WOMEN

Les Aspin tossed another grenade into the foxholes recently when he announced a new policy that, would open ground combat jobs to women. Aspin, like his decision last October not to send tanks to Somalia, has allowed politics and political correctness to overrule military judgment.

The outgoing defense secretary said the current "risk rule" keeping women out of dangerous jobs would be lifted by October 1994. Female soldiers will be assigned to artillery, engineering and other combat support units, putting them right in the middle of the battlefield.

This is a decision driven by the huggy-feely group that runs the Clinton administration and is based more on lofty principles than street smarts. Few of them know of warfare because few have worn the uniform. But all of them hunger for justice and equal opportunity and view the military as a social laboratory for changing America

Aspin is putting women in combat aircraft and fighting ships against the recommendations of a Bush administration commission that studied the issue for months and interviewed thousands of male and female soldiers. Aspin rationalized his decision by saying, "We've made historic progress in opening up opportunities for women in all the services." After almost a decade of living on battlefields over the past 48 blood- spattered years, I don't see being in a combat zone as offering much in the way of 'opportunity." Nor can I understand why any female soldier would want to do the worst possible thing a male soldier has to do, especially because it's a job that will only get nastier as our troubled world claws its way into the 21st century.

Last year I interviewed about 500 female soldiers from the Army's elite Parachute Corps. All were veterans of the Gulf War, a conflict in which more Americans were killed by accidents than by enemy fire. All knew they had not been in real combat like World War II or Vietnam, but none wanted anything more to do with living in the trenches. All knew from being near the front that warfare is not a romantic, push-button game that ends at 5 p.m.

Most of these dedicated female grunts said that all the talk about women having the same opportunity as men on the battlefield was from Pat Schroeder types and senior officers who would never have to live in the muddy, high-risk killing fields. They said their becoming cannon fodder was a bad move for them, but a good one for those sister officers who need to climb the ladder to stardom and glory at their expense.

It's a hollow victory for the women's movement, which appears to want women to do the same things as men, even if it kills them.

Not one female soldier I interviewed saw any equality or career advancement coming from living in foxholes, not showering for weeks and being put at risk doing jobs beyond their strength and endurance. Some artillery rounds weigh more than 100 pounds. In the Gulf, the average engineer's rucksack weighed 82 pounds.

Not one woman I interviewed wanted to be in a combat job. Not one wanted to clear mine fields, fire cannons or defend bases against marauders. They are all committed to serving America, but in jobs according to their ability.

Aspin also wants to redefine the term "direct combat." He seems to think that if he gives it a politically acceptable name, the horror will go away. Gen. Sherman got it right when he said, "War is hell." A name change isn't going to take the hell or horror out of war, as the warrior's body that was dragged through the streets of Mogadishu during the "peacekeeping" operations there recently reminded us.

Our founding fathers knew a long time ago that from time to time, fools would endanger America, so they set up a constitutional system to suffer those fools wisely -- by stopping them in their tracks. Whatever Aspin rules on his way out, our lawmakers can change.