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Military Study Finds Women Fill Few Jobs Tied to Combat

By Dana Priest
The Washington Post

Women fill a "very low" number of the tens of thousands of combat-related jobs that Congress and the military's civilian leadership ordered the services to open up to them in the last several years, says a study commissioned by the Defense Department.

The study found a significant reluctance on the part of some commanders to abide by the law and allow women to fill the vacancies. It also noted that lack of training and the fact that women make up only 14 percent of the armed forces were factors contributing to the minuscule change.

Of the 47,544 jobs that became available to women in 1993 and 1994, women fill only 815 of them, the study by RAND's National Defense Research Institute shows. The report is to be released Wednesday.

Local Army commanders, for instance, may require infantry experience for certain jobs that are supposed to be open to women, even though women are prohibited by law from being part of infantry units. Some commanders decide on their own to limit the number of women in certain units or they assign women to work in administrative jobs despite the fact that they are trained for other areas.

The discovery that some commanders have barred women from jobs contrasts with the findings in the report that in the newly opened units where women are present, "gender integration is perceived to have a relatively small effect on readiness, cohesion, and morale."

When 934 service members were asked to indicate the factors that influenced a unit's ability to do its job, only two people listed gender as a factor. Rather, training and the climate created by unit leaders were key components to whether a unit performs well.

In fact, more than half the enlisted men and one-third of the male officers favored allowing women into all combat positions from which they are now excluded. About 80 percent of the women supported a change, with many believing women should enter combat jobs only on a volunteer basis.

The report marks the beginning of a second wave of inquiry into the question of how women and men are working together in the armed services.

In the last several years, sexual scandals have shaken all the services. Each service also has conducted surveys that show what they have described as unacceptably high levels of sexual misconduct and distrust, especially among women, that their chain of command will take complaints seriously.

The Army has been the most recent focus of attention following the sexual misconduct between trainers and recruits at its base in Aberdeen, Md., and the upcoming court-martial of Command Sgt. Maj. Gene C. McKinney, who was its highest-ranking enlisted man until recently.

The Defense Department is now in the midst of a yearlong study of whether women in the military have actually been given the equal opportunities they were promised and whether the services have identified and made the changes necessary to successfully adjust to their growing numbers.

"These are difficult issues and you really need to get into the mechanics of the personnel systems to fix them," said Sara E. Lister, the assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs. "This is a question of time."

In part as a result of the Navy's Tailhook scandal, in which Navy aviators groped and mistreated female peers and civilians at an off-hours party, many in Congress believed the military was out of step with changes in the civilian workplace and demanded it catch up.

Women are now eligible to be assigned to all positions for which they are qualified, except those below the brigade level whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground. This generally means they cannot be a part of infantry, armor or artillery units.

They can now work in Army mechanized smoke companies, engineer bridge companies, the headquarters of special forces groups and air defense battalions, among others.

Only submarines and small combat ships in the Navy remain closed to women. Women also are slowly gaining in number as combat pilots. They are allowed to fly in certain Marine helicopter squadrons and, in the Air Force, the changes in the law allowed them to become fighter, bomber and special operations pilots.