Gender integration in training favored Pentagon group finds support, contrary to Cohen panel's report

December 20, 1997|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- A Pentagon advisory group for military women has found strong support from male and female troops for continuing gender-integrated basic training, contrary to the recommendations of a special panel created by Defense Secretary William S. Cohen.

"Most service members from every service believed that more gender integration of training was needed than currently existed in their service," said the 13-page report by the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, created in 1951 to advise the secretary of defense on women's issues.

The report, not yet released but obtained by The Sun, said the panel's seven-member inspection team visited 10 training bases, interviewing 1,200 trainees and trainers from all services,

including the Marine Corps, the only service that separates the sexes in basic training.

Those interviewed also complained of gender discriminatory behavior and called for increased physical training for all trainees, better screening of new recruits and improved support services for women.

"The strong message was you have got to have greater !c integration at a supervised training environment," said Judith A. Youngman, the committee's chairwoman and a professor at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. "Both men and women said it overwhelmingly."

But a panel headed by former Kansas Republican Sen. Nancy Kassebaum Baker -- which interviewed some 2,000 trainees, trainers and military personnel -- recommended this week that the military increase the separation of men and women in basic training.

"Integrated basic training is resulting in less discipline, less unit cohesion and more distraction from the training programs," the Kassebaum Baker report said. "The committee observed that gender-integration at the operational training unit level is causing confusion and a less cohesive environment."

Said Youngman, "I can't explain how they came to their conclusion."

The Kassebaum Baker panel was formed in June by Cohen in response to the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground sex scandal to assess current training programs and determine how best to train the gender-integrated force.

When the Aberdeen scandal came to light in November 1996, Youngman's advisory committee was asked by then-Defense Secretary William J. Perry to visit training bases and talk with trainees and trainers, and report its findings.

The panels have different makeups. The Kassebaum Baker group included retired male and female officers and enlisted personnel, while the Youngman committee is all women, mostly with academic, business and government backgrounds. Youngman said she didn't know whether any of her group had been in the service.

The two panels did agree on some issues, including the need for more physical conditioning and greater screening of recruits.

The Kassebaum Baker report suggested that the Army, Navy and Air Force consider keeping the smallest organizational units -- platoons, divisions or flights, depending on the service -- segregated by sex in basic training.

Cohen praised the Kassebaum Baker report when he accepted it Wednesday but has been silent on its recommendations. Cohen referred the report to the military services for their review and comment.

The Youngman report was delivered to the Pentagon two days before the Kassebaum Baker report, and there is still no date for its release. The services have requested but have not received copies of the report. The Pentagon had no immediate comment on the report and offered no prediction on when it would be released publicly.

"It's disappointing that the research of these members has not been released at this time," said Youngman. "Discussion of gender- integrated training is a very emotional issue. It is important that all the information from the training bases be out."

Women make up about 14 percent of the military forces. Only a fraction of male recruits routinely train with females in basic training, because of the smaller percentage of women and the way the training units are grouped. About 50 percent of the Army's male recruits, 25 percent of the Navy's male recruits and 40 percent of the Air Force's male recruits routinely train with females in basic training.

Pub Date: 12/20/97

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