Separate basic training for women in military viewed with skepticism Members of Congress question whether it would avert sexual misconduct

May 18, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- With sex scandals breaking out all over the military, legislation to segregate men and women in basic training is gaining momentum in the House.

But Republicans are deeply divided over the issue, and most Democrats and women of both parties in the House and Senate are criticizing it as a step backward for female troops that will do nothing to stop sexual misconduct in the armed forces.

"It's unrealistic for us to separate men and women for a period of training only to put them together to develop working relationships and camaraderie," said Rep. Susan Molinari, a New York Republican.

Some Republicans fear that the bill could cause a backlash among female voters.

"It'll reinforce the perception that the Republican Party doesn't understand the role women play in our society or in our military," said Sen. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, who supports integrated training.

Men and women have gone through basic training together, a rigorous eight-week course, since 1993 in the Army, 1994 in the Navy and 1976 in the Air Force. Only the Marine Corps segregates men and women in basic training.

Under a bill sponsored by Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Maryland Republican who is on the House National Security Committee, all branches of the armed services would separate men and women in basic training and would provide female drill instructors for women and male instructors for men.

Men and women would be allowed to train and work together after that, as they do now in all branches of the military.

Bartlett cited several recent incidents of Army drill sergeants' preying upon young female recruits as evidence to support keeping men and women apart during basic training.

"During the brief period of time when they're being socialized into the ethos of the military, it's counterproductive to have men and women train together," Bartlett said in an interview.

"The attraction and distraction of sexuality is detracting from the effectiveness of basic training.

"This is not a women's rights issue. I'm very supportive of women in the military. Women do some jobs better than men, like factory work, where you need good eye-hand coordination and attention to detail."

Bartlett's bill has 112 co-sponsors in the House, mainly Republicans, although a handful of conservative Democrats have also joined.

Even so, the bill faces long odds of ever becoming law. Two important Republicans on the House National Security Committee, Floyd D. Spence of South Carolina and Stephen Buyer of Indiana, say the legislation is premature.

Senators skeptical of integrated basic training, such as Daniel R. Coats, an Indiana Republican, are introducing no legislation for now. Finally, President Clinton is unlikely to approve any bill containing the provision.

But supporters of integrated basic training are still concerned and are mounting a legislative counterattack.

Snowe introduced a bill Friday to keep the status quo. In the

House, a bipartisan group of female legislators is actively lobbying against the bill.

"The services are better judges on how to train than a rump

group of congresspersons," said Rep. Jane Harman, a California Democrat.

The Army, Navy and Air Force strongly oppose the House bill as a threat to the concept of "train together, fight together."

"It's absolutely essential that men and women train together from the very beginning," said Rear Adm. Kevin P. Green, commander of the Navy's training center at Great Lakes, Ill.

"In the process of transforming adolescent civilians to sailors, to prepare them for the fleet environment, I don't want to wait."

Officials from these services say that separating men and women in basic training will not solve sexual misconduct problems.

"We really don't have a failure of training, but a failure of a few individuals at the training level," said Lt. Gen. Frederick E. Vollrath, the Army's chief personnel officer.

Indeed, the most recently publicized incidents of rape and assault, at the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, involved women in advanced training courses, not basic training.

A three-year study completed in 1996 by the Army Research Institute concluded that women in mixed-sex training units improved their performance in such areas as physical fitness and marksmanship.

The performance of men in these units was not degraded, the study determined.

Pub Date: 5/18/97

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