Seal of disapproval Navy: 'G.I. Jane' at sea on training, says a man who's been through it.

August 28, 1997|By Tamara Ikenberg | Tamara Ikenberg,SUN STAFF

Mel Gibson has been Hamlet. Kevin Costner has been Robin Hood. Woody Allen has been a romantic lead.

Stranger things have happened in Hollywood than Demi Moore playing a Navy SEAL, as she does in "G.I. Jane." Director Ridley Scott's preach-athon doggedly insists women (especially surgically enhanced ones) can endure the military's most rigorous physical and mental program: Navy SEAL (sea, air, land) training.

But the casting of Moore isn't what has retired SEAL Tom Hawkins up in arms about the movie.

The distorted representation of training, the demonic caricatures Navy officials and the harassment of Moore's character, Jordan O'Neil, are what anger him.

"If I were an instructor at B.U.D.S. [basic underwater demolition SEALS], I'd be very angry with this movie," the 54-year-old Norfolk, Va., resident says. "The way they present training is bloody way off the mark."

The film is pure fiction. There has never been a female Navy SEAL. Women are not even allowed to try out for the elite special operations force, famous for high attrition rates during the physically and mentally excruciating training.

The Navy has shied away from extensive public comment on the film, although Harry Humphries, a retired SEAL, served as technical adviser for "G.I. Jane." Moore, determined perfectionist that she is, spent time at B.U.D.S. and even went so far as to call President Clinton to try to get advice from the Pentagon.

But despite the research by Moore, director Ridley Scott and others involved in the film, Hawkins, president of the Underwater Demolition SEAL Association, maintains that "G.I. Jane" is damaging fantasy.

The actors playing the trainees were too old, Hawkins says. Even the terminology was inaccurate: In the movie, the training was called C.R.T.(combined reconnaissance training), not B.U.D.S.

The military higher-ups and the master chief are portrayed as evil, white, male conspirators to whom the idea of a female SEAL is the height of absurdity. Hawkins said the sexist reactions to O'Neil in Washington, and during training, were ridiculous.

"Would there be some resentment [toward a female SEAL]? I don't think so," he says. "SEALS are judged on what they can do."

When O'Neil enters the male-dominated scene, she's taunted and tormented. When her famed physique makes its first appearance in the dining hall, fellow trainees make rude comments. A tampon joke follows. And she faces the naked truth of equality when the caustic, poetry-spewing master chief conducts a conversation with her in the shower, her buns of steel fully exposed.

That's the easy part.

In a simulation of POW camp, the master chief beats her silly and threatens her with rape. His justification: Give her a real taste of what terrors await her if she's captured -- or if she dares challenge the system.

Hawkins was particularly annoyed by this, because it violates a basic rule: "Instructors can't touch a trainee." And POW simulation doesn't even take place during B.U.D.S, added Hawkins.

He says "CBS Weekend News" anchor Paula Zahn's five-part series on SEALs, which aired in the spring of last year on "CBS Morning News," was much more valuable. Zahn, who observed and participated in two weeks of SEAL training in Coronado, Calif., has not seen "G.I. Jane," but she was at the training site days before Moore came out to survey the scene.

The men Zahn encountered during SEAL training were respectful of her and professional, she says. "I never heard a disparaging word," Zahn says. "These guys had to trust me."

Trust and teamwork are vital in SEAL training, Hawkins and Zahn say. A group of SEALS would be unlikely to sabotage a team member, as they did O'Neil in the movie. During an obstacle course, a teammate offers a hand and then sadistically rescinds it. Later in the film, another teammate executes a half-hearted attempt to pull her aboard a fast-moving boat, leaving her behind.

Zahn remembers an exercise where she and her team had to hold up a 175-pound telephone pole as part of strength training. Although she admits she was half the size of the men surrounding her, she was still treated as an equal team member.

"Clearly, I was the weakest link," Zahn says. "That was a time if someone was going to be sexist, they would've been sexist."

Of course, her report was appearing on national news. Not all women get the star treatment.

No one can deny women have had problems in military settings, considering the Tailhook and Aberdeen scandals and Shannon Faulkner's crude introduction to the military school The Citadel.

Georgia Sadler, a retired U.S. Navy captain, doesn't think the treatment of women in "G.I. Jane" is that far off the mark.

"If you're going into the SEALs, they're a very macho organization," she says. "They're not going to be very helpful."

From 1980 to 1982, Sadler served as head of Women's Programs, a Navy organization that monitors women's progress in the branch. The program has researched the effects pregnancy has on military women and has made strides in

including women in aviation programs, among other projects.

But by no means does Sadler consider the film accurate, particularly the idea of sending only one woman into the SEAL program. "You would put a group of women in so there is some support system," she says.

Sadler also has problems with a pivotal scene where Moore shaves her well-conditioned locks to conform to the norm.

"No woman in her right mind would've started the training with long hair," she says.

But Moore need not worry. The military personnel who saw "G.I. Jane" seem to agree that her performance was the most believable aspect of the film. "Her neck was huge," Sadler says.

Pub Date: 8/28/97

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