Pentagon to open more combat support jobs to women, but plan has its critics

January 14, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon announced a new policy yesterday that would allow women to serve in some combat support jobs, but skeptics immediately questioned how fully the Army and Marine Corps -- both of which are reluctant to make any sweeping changes -- would carry it out.

Under the new plan, which will take effect next Oct. 1, women still would be barred from direct ground combat assignments. But they no longer would be excluded from other military specialties merely because the jobs are dangerous.

Although preliminary figures were sketchy, the Army estimated that the change eventually could open an additional 7,000 jobs to women on active duty and 11,000 more slots in the reserves and National Guard. The Marine Corps had no comparable estimates.

However, officials said the two services probably would not decide until early May specifically which jobs would be opened to women. Yesterday's order merely directed them to open up more non-combat slots to women and to work out the details by May 1.

The new regulation was part of a continuing effort by outgoing Defense Secretary Les Aspin to broaden the opportunities for women in the service. Last April, Mr. Aspin opened the way for women to serve as combat pilots and to serve in more seagoing billets in the Navy.

The order reflects last-minute adjustments ordered by Mr. Aspin, who had feared that an earlier draft document might actually have allowed the Army and Marine Corps to reduce the number of jobs available to women.

In a news conference called to announce the new policy, Mr. Aspin said he had discussed the order with the man named to be his successor, retired Adm. Bobby Ray Inman, and that Mr. Inman effectively had endorsed the plan. "So there is no disconnect," Mr. Aspin said.

But Army Maj. Lillian Pfluke, a 1980 West Point graduate who has served for 13 1/2 years as an ordnance officer, expressed skepticism over whether the services would fully carry out the spirit of Mr. Aspin's new policy. "Mr. Aspin has done great things for women in the service, but I am very apprehensive" about how far the services will go in filling in the details on the policy, Major Pfluke said.

Martin Binkin, a Brookings Institution military manpower expert, agreed.

Mr. Binkin said the latest policy was "not a radical departure from what previously had been in place. I'm not sure it's going to open up that many opportunities," he said.

Almost as soon as Mr. Aspin completed his announcement, the Army issued a statement saying it had decided to allow women to serve in a variety of jobs ranging from chemical warfare reconnaissance units to division-level military police.

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