Tagged: women in the military
The U.S. Air Force pulled a sexual assault prevention and response brochure this week – because it simply stated the obvious. The brochure, which was originally locally distributed to airmen at a base in North Carolina, came under fire from Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY), who singled out a passage that read:
“If you are attacked, it may be advisable to submit than to resist. You have to make this decision based on circumstances. Be especially careful if the attack has a weapon.”
Disregarding the grammatical issues, the passage, as originally written, is correct. Furthermore, it is obviously correct, and any four-year-old child could reach the same conclusion. Resistance is not a rational course of action in every case. If there are multiple armed attackers, for example, or if the victim is also responsible for the life of a small child who would be endangered she resists, or if the attacker already has such a jump on her and there is such an imbalance of strength or leverage that resistance would be hopeless, but simply invite further violence, severe injury at the hands of a sadistic psychopath, or death, then submitting until the situation changes may very well offer the best chance of survival against a violent and determined attack.
Indeed, violent criminals frequently choose to target the place and time of their attacks precisely because they can make active resistance a non-option for any rational victim. Resisting an assault attempt of a drunk “friend” is a very different decision than resisting a violent stranger with a knife to the throat or a gun to the head, or to a child’s head.
Not every rapist conforms to Representative Slaughter’s assumptions concerning his modus operandi or motive. Some are easily deterred by resistance, and some will be simply emboldened to new heights of rage or cruelty. Only the victim in this case – the person on the scene – can make the decision whether to resist in hopes of escape or to submit in hopes of survival.
This is elementary – and well-known to criminologists. So it takes a lot of nerve to question it, or to try to second-guess the decisions made in real-time by victims of attack.
Unfortunately for the country, Representative Slaughter has that nerve. Indeed, not only does she object to the simple truth written in the pamphlet; she characterized the pamphlet’s accurate and reasonable advice as “shockingly offensive and inappropriate.”
In a letter to the Secretary of Defense, Rep. Slaughter wrote, “Attached is a partial copy of the brochure from Shaw Air Force Base which contains multiple victim-blaming and inappropriate messages regarding sexual assault. Please review all the materials that your office uses, and employ the assistance of outside experts in sexual assault prevention and treatment in your efforts to ensure that the appropriate messages about sexual assault prevention and response are being provided to all servicewomen and men. We cannot perpetuate the myths of sexual assault and expect to see real change in the prevalence of such events at the same time.”
It is not clear to which of the crime prevention and coping techniques in the pamphlet Rep. Slaughter was referring. I read the pamphlet as published by her staff on her own Website, and wasn’t able to find a single sentence that could remotely be construed as “victim blaming” or “perpetuating the myths of sexual assault.”
The Department of Defense groveled to her when it responded, not by defending their reasonable pamphlet on the merits, but by simply withdrawing it from circulation. Because it is somehow preferable for female airmen stationed at Shaw to have no written guidelines or advice on how to protect themselves from sexual assault than to have access to this document.
“No service member wearing the uniform of the United States military should ever be told `it may be advisable to submit than to resist’ in the case of a sexual assault,” Slaughter said in a separate statement, though without any argument to advance her ridiculous assertion. “I am cautiously optimistic about the Pentagon’s agreement to review all sexual assault prevention materials. We have to change the military culture if we want to stop this epidemic of sexual assault, and this response is a step in the right direction and a small victory for victims.”
Aside from being an insult to every rape or assault victim who felt she could not resist without risking more severe injury or death (Does Rep. Slaughter believe such a woman is somehow less because she made a judgment call that allowed her to survive?) Slaughter’s statement is so ill-thought-out and absurd that one is hard-pressed to believe it came from an adult mind. The obvious point of the passage was to give advice to those who may become victimized should efforts at prevention fail. Even if the DoD were somehow successful at eliminating sexual assaults on the part of servicemembers entirely, not every female servicemember who is attacked is attacked by another servicemember. This, too, is glaringly simple to grasp.
What is not so easy to grasp is why a member of Congress with no particular expertise in military affairs has so much time on her hands that she can concern herself with the micromanagement of the tiniest minutiae of the management of an Air Force Base not even in her district.
It’s also unclear why it is the Air Force knuckled under to this kind of ignorant PC meddling from someone who has such a casual relationship with truth and who obviously doesn’t think very hard.
Then again, considering the fact that the Air Force just went through an exercise confiscating copies of Men’s Fitness magazine and images of WWII nose art because they may be offensive to women, the cravenness of Air Force officials, cowed by purveyors of political correctness beyond reason or parody, is becoming more predictable, if not more rational.
The Department of Defense announced the creation of Safe HelpRoom – a new peer-to-peer support resource for servicemembers and transitioning servicemembers who believe they have been raped, sexually assaulted or harassed.
(Note: If you have just been assaulted or raped, read this first for tips on how to preserve evidence and preserve your options and law enforcement’s options if you want to pursue criminal charges against your attacker.)
SafeHelpRoom is an add-on feature to Safe Helpline – an online resource fielded last year via a contract with the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, or RAINN. It provides a way for victims to communicate with one another and to connect with support services counseling and advice through an anonymous Internet chat portal. According to RAINN, their network does not record the IP addresses of those who log into their system – though if servicemembers do so from their work computers, it is possible for their supervisors to determine their online activity from the DoD’s own logs.
RAINN workers will also conduct two online Safe HelpRoom sessions for two hours, twice per week. The schedule is posted at the website, www.SafeHelpline.org. These workers will have information on available help and resources near military bases and other possible supports for victims. It is not necessary to have filed a restricted or unrestricted report via SHARP or to have already gone to the chain of command with your report before signing on to Safe Helpline.
Alternatively, servicemembers, including those who have recently retired or ETS’d, can call 877-995-5247, 24 hours a day, seven days per week. The phone number is the same for use inside the U.S. or via the Defense Switched Network (DSN).
“Safe HelpRoom was designed with unique safeguards to ensure a safe and welcoming place for survivors to connect,” said Army Maj. Gen. Gary S. Patton, director of the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Office. “Safe HelpRoom is the first of its kind to require participants to commit to a series of ‘ground rules’ of acceptable behavior before entering a session. Additionally, each participant comment is reviewed to ensure it complies with the ground rules prior to posting for the group to see. Safe HelpRoom provides a secure and private environment for positive and supportive discussions.”
The Department of Defense estimates that up to 26,000 servicemembers experienced sexual assault in 2012, which is up from about 19,000 in 2011. The numbers are based on an anonymous survey, however. However, only 3,374 people actually reported the assault.
Among those who reported that they experienced an assault but did not report it, about 47 percent reported that they did not do so because they feared retaliation or reprisal. Moreover, 43 percent of those surveyed said they had heard about the negative experiences of others who reported being attacked.
The officer in charge of the U.S. Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski, was arrested last month for allegedly groping a woman – suggesting that the recent U.S. Air Force crackdown on images of WWII nose art and copies of Men’s Fitness magazine in the work areas may have been off target.
Naturally, the other services will be following suit.
Meanwhile, another report, focusing specifically on the service academies, indicated that there were a total of 80 sexual assaults reported through the chain of command or through SHARP auspices during the 2011-2012 academic year; 38 of them were “restricted reports,” that were, at the victims request, not referred to commanders to consider UCMJ action. 42 percent were ‘unrestricted,’ meaning that commanders were informed of the details, and if they believed the evidence warranted prosecution, could be referred for UCMJ action against the alleged perpetrator or perpetrators. Four of those restricted reports were later converted to unrestricted at the victim’s request.
Incidentally, the number of reported cases of sexual assaults has risen dramatically at the service academies, rising from a low of 25 during the 2008-2009 academic year to 41, 65 and 80 in the following years.
Senator Kirsten Gillebrand (D-New York) has introduced a bill in the Senate that would allow military servicewomen to obtain abortions in military medical facilities, provided they pay for them out of pocket. Current law forbids federal dollars from directly funding abortions except to protect the life of the mother, or in cases of rape or incest. The law also currently prohibits military members and their families from using their own money to pay for abortions in military hospitals.
Representative Louise Slaughter (D-New York) introduced similar legislation last month in the House of Representatives.
The proposed bill, called the Military Access to Reproductive Care and Health Act (or the MARCH Act, as suckers for acronyms like to call it), is intended to allow military women to get abortions in American military facilities overseas rather than have to take leave and go back to the United States to get it or risk having an unsafe abortionist in an overseas country do it. Gillebrand and the law’s supporters are also concerned about overseas language barriers, the health and safety records of overseas abortion providers, questionable regulation, and a lack of privacy.
The Department of Defense estimates that as many as 19,000 servicemembers are sexually assaulted each year,” said Senator Gillebrand in a statement. “While victims of rape or incest now can receive abortion services at military medical facilities, for some disclosing their assault would be especially problematic; for example, because their commanding officer is the perpetrator of the assault. Other women may decide that they simply do not want to disclose that they were raped. Either way, the MARCH Act of 2013 would provide a path for women in this difficult position to receive services without compromising their privacy.”
Senator Gillebrand is the chairperson of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel.
The Senate version of the bill has also picked up co-sponsorship from Senators Dick Durbin (Ill.), Al Franken (Minn.), Tom Harkin (Ia.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Patty Murray (Wash.), Bernie Sanders (Vt.), Jean Shaheen (N.H.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.). All the Senate cosponsors are Democrats, except for Sanders, who an independent but who describes himself as a “democratic socialist.”
The House version of the bill has 45 co-sponsors, all of them Democrats. Passage in the house is impossible without some Republican support, since Republicans still hold the majority in the House of Representatives.
“Our women in uniform continue to play increasingly critical roles in our military and there is no reason for them to be excluded from the same types of health care services available to those in the private sector,” said Senator Patty Murray.
“Women serving in foreign countries deserve access to safe and legal health care, which in many cases is not available off the military base. Women in the U.S. military shouldn’t have to forfeit their rights when they serve abroad, and this legislation would bring unjust treatment to an end,” said Senator Frank R. Lautenberg.
Supporters of the House version of the bill state that there is a ‘conscience clause’ that allows military health care providers who object to performing abortions to refuse to provide it.
In 1993, the Clinton Administration issued an executive order that lifted the ban on using private funds to pay for abortions in military hospitals. However, Congress reinstated the ban in 1995, prohibiting private funding for abortions at military facilities except in cases involving a threat to the life of the mother, rape or incest. Congress also restricted public funding for abortions to cases involving a threat to the mother’s life. A more extensive legislative and political history is available from the Guttmacher Institute here. The Guttmacher Institute consistently supports abortion rights.
Both Senator Slaughter and Gillebrand have attempted to push similar legislation in 2011 and 2012, but without success.
It was just a few years ago that artillery units were being stripped of their guns and pressed into service as infantry – both in Iraq and Afghanistan.
That’s not stopping the Army from integrating women officers into gun batteries, though. The Fayetteville Observer comes up with a made-to-order puff piece about at least one such officer, Lieutenant Shannon Syphus, a female artillery platoon leader currently assigned to C Battery, 3rd Battalion, 321st Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, in November.
Not to denigrate Lt. Syphus personally – she is clearly a smart, fit and capable officer. The article, which seems to have been half written by the 82nd Airborne Division PAO, certainly stated that Lt. Syphus was able to perform to the minimum standard required of male artillerymen – that is, she passed the test requiring her to lift a 100-pound 155mm shell. What was left unanswered, however, was how many shells in a row she could lift and load, say, if her unit were required to fire a desperate self-defense mission in the direct-lay mode, or an urgent final protective line mission.
Granted, as an officer, Lt. Syphus’s job does not normally require her to man the guns, personally. But the 18th Fires Brigade is also expecting the first batch of enlisted women to join the unit in May. The article does not deal with how many 100-pound shells in a row these young women can load, either, compared to their trained male counterparts.
Miraculously, the story’s author was unable to find anyone in the unit or the Army who cited on record the obvious physiological challenges of integrating women into the field artillery branch.
The article also does not mention the challenge of integrating women, as part of artillery units, into the infantry mission. While the Army has not attempted to integrate women into the infantry MOS, the early attempts by the Marine Corps to include women in the infantry officers’ course have predictably failed.
This shouldn’t exactly be a revelation: The Israeli Army experimented with integrating women into combat roles some years ago – in an environment that is generally less logistically austere than the expeditionary role frequently taken on by the United States military. They, too, abandoned the experiment as a failure.
On the other hand, there have been women graduates of the Artillery School at Fort Sill in the past. Lt. Elizabeth Tourville graduated from Fort Sill’s Artillery Officer Basic Course in the 1970s. Lance missile and Pershing missile units were open to women until 1989. General Carl Vuono closed the field artillery branch to women that year, though, because the Pershing and Lance were scheduled to be deactivated. Continuing to bring in women to man these weapons would have doomed them to dead-end careers as they could not be laterally transferred within the branch specialty to other weapons. The Lance Missile was deactivated in 1992, however, and the Lance Missile was deactivated in 1991.
Additionally, the MOS 82C, Field Artillery Surveyor, was opened to women in the mid-1990s, though the MLRS weapons system remained closed to women, as it was generally stationed well forward, close to the FLOT (forward line of own troops) in the defense, according to Women at War: Gender Issues of Americans in Combat, a 1999 book by Rosemarie Skaine.
We have some extremely promising and capable women officers and soldiers up and down the ranks. The same is true in the Marine Corps. But the continued effort to integrate women into combat arms billets without a headlong grappling with the secondary mission of artillery as infantry – already proven in Iraq and on battlefields elsewhere – and without seriously dealing with the already-demonstrated difference in injury rates, in stress fractures, in illnesses, in lost duty hours and field time due to pregnancy, in a 50 percent greater utilization rate of troop medical clinics (TMCs), in upper body strength and stamina, the fact that combat loads cannot be gender-normed, and without grappling seriously with the failed Israeli experiment with women in combat roles, is an exercise in PC-inspired stupidity and it’s going to get some of our finest young women needlessly hurt in the process.
Two more women marines dropped out of the USMC Infantry Officer Course at Quantico, Virginia today. They were, fortunately, not injured. They were simply unable to complete the challenging obstacle course.
Two other women who enrolled in the course last year didn’t make it very long. One didn’t pass the endurance test at the beginning of the course, and the other dropped out in the second week due to a medical issue.
According to NBC News, the there were also twelve men who were unable to complete the obstacle course. No women passed the obstacle course. However, 96 men out of an original 112 students are still enrolled after the obstacle course hurdle.
The normal historical attrition rate for the entire 10-week course is about 25 percent.
We first looked at this issue in this article, where we noted:
- Women have only a fraction of the upper body strength that men do.
- Women can only fireman–carry a fraction of the weight that a man can be expected to.
- Women have a smaller heart and lung capacity than men.
- Women therefore have a much lower VO^2 max than men.
Some of these differences become small or vanish when you adjust for size. But you cannot adjust for size.
Now, you can select your way around the differences above, to an extent, perhaps, by screening for athletic performance. If a woman can demonstrate she can fireman-carry the average Marine infantryman across 100m in the required time (no adjusting for her size, because Lord knows combat won’t), and she can demonstrate she can hump a rucksack with the boys, and she’s in the top 1 percent for physical fitness and achievement for women, rather than the top 30 percent for men, then fine. More power to her.
But there are other factors as well, that are even more important:
- Women have a lower bone density than men.
- Women have a different hip and pelvic structure than men.
- Women are more prone to stress fractures than men. Much more.
You cannot identify in advance which women will succumb to stress fractures.
This is no joke: In an era in which the military is trying to cut costs, stress fractures cost the military up to $100 million per year in medical costs and lost duty time, according to reporting by the American Forces Press Service.
It is clear that women are at a significantly elevated risk not only of course failure – which is expensive to the taxpayer – but also of long-term debilitating injuries that could even preclude them from serving in other specialities and drive them out of service. This is expensive, too – and doubly so when you add in the cost of long-term chronic knee, pelvis, hip and back injuries that will require ongoing care from the military and VA health care systems. As noted above, the cost of stress fractures alone in the military runs about $100 million per year, or a billion dollars every ten years.
Those mustering arguments in favor of including women in the military have never addressed the very real physiological and cost-effectiveness arguments above. Even if a woman completes the course, she will still have years of hard, grueling training and possibly combat in front of her when she joins her unit – and as a marine infantry platoon leader, she must lead from the front – not limp along behind. Or she is not doing her job.
We will cause many women to fail a course, and permanently injure many others, before we find one who can last eight years on the job as an infantry officer.
Nevertheless, the grand experiment to include women in the infantry continues apace, in a monument to the stupidity of PC wishful thinking over the hard reality of gender differences.
It is our very best women who will be volunteering for this course – out of youthful enthusiasm and a desire for challenge. They are fantastic young women and will make excellent officers. Let’s make sure we can keep them so they can serve long, productive careers – in other vital specialties.
The unemployment rate among post 9/11 military veterans has soared, according to the latest release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The jobless rate for GWOT veterans, is up to 11.7 percent – a sharp increase from the 9.9 percent figure in December, and an even bigger increase from the 9.1 percent unemployment rate the same cohort posted just a year ago. The jobless rate for these individuals is also much higher than it is for the nation as a whole, which is 7.9 percent.
The overall jobless rate also increased in the February jobs report, from 7.7 percent, according to the Bureau.
The unemployment rate among women veterans of the Global War on Terror – 17.5 percent — is significantly higher than the unemployment rate among men, which is 10.1 percent. The unemployment rate among women GWOT veterans actually fell slightly, though, while unemployment among male GWOT vets increased from 7.7 to 10.5 percent over the same period.
Why are Women Veterans Lagging Men in the Labor Market?
As with so many things, the answer is, it’s complicated.
First, the data show clearly that women are far less likely to leave the service and enter the labor force than men. The labor force participation among women post-9/11 veterans is 70.4 percent – down from 72 percent the prior year. This is substantially below the male participation rate of 83.7 percent. Women are more likely to pursue other options besides employment, including stay-at-home motherhood, becoming full-time students, or self-employment not captured in unemployment statistics.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, women are also significantly more likely to be collecting benefits for a service-related disability rated at 50 percent or more than men. Of the population of women receiving VA disability compensation, 34.5 percent of them are rated at 50 percent or higher, compared to 26.2 percent of men.
A Darwinian analyst might hypothesize that the difference between male and female unemployment rates in this demographic is a function of biology: A woman in this age group who has recently left the service and is not in the work force is still an acceptable mate for many men. Few women, however, would select a jobless male veteran as an acceptable mate.
Men, in short, work because women demand it.
Women are also three times more likely to be single parents than men (11 percent to 4 percent), according to the California Department of Research (citing a 2010 study from the National Center on Family Homelessness.) Furthermore, women in the military are far more likely to divorce than men.
John E. Pickens, executive director of a Veterans Plus, has another explanation: Women don’t carry the same warrior panache in the public eye. “”Typically, folks look at male veterans returning as warriors who we need to honor, and say we need to do what we can for these warriors. Women, unfortunately, don’t carry home that same mantel as a warrior,” says Pickens.
Recently, the Bureau of Labor Statistics began using an updated population model put together by the Veterans Administration. It is possible that the new statistical model includes more veterans who had previously been excluded from the count, and that these newly-included veterans are more likely to be homeless. However, it was not apparent from the BLS release how much of an effect the new statistical model had.
Also, since the sample of GWOT veterans is relatively small, compared to the population as a whole, the unemployment rate among this sample tends to be more volatile, as well.
Traditionally, an outgoing commander does not make big, sweeping announcements potentially transforming the force. It’s considered a common courtesy to the incoming commander that you do not paint him into a corner or commit him to a policy he would not have undertaken. This is especially true with policies that cannot be quickly and cleanly rescinded.
This also ensures that the new policy will be diligently enforced, since it will be associated with the person who ordered it.
But the current Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, issued a sweeping directive last week lifting the longstanding restriction of women from most combat arms billets across the Department of Defense. Panetta is in his final weeks of his tenure as Secretary of Defense – the Administration has nominated Chuck Hagel to succeed him.
If the President, as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, wanted to make this change in his 2nd term (it would have been risky to do so prior to the election), then why not wait until Hagel is in place and let him issue the order? Why did he stick a lame duck with the job of issuing the order?
The answer may not lie in Washington, but further south, in Tampa.
Sources have been saying that the Administration is not happy with its CENTCOM Commander, Marine General James Mattis. According to the well-connected Thomas Ricks, a former Washington Post defense correspondent and now a contributor to Foreign Policy, the Administration was becoming exasperated with the Mattis because of his critical questioning of White House National Security Advisor Tom Donilon.
Sources now confirm that Mattis is being moved out of the post months earlier than expected.
Mattis took over the CENTCOM job in 2010, when GEN Petraeus retired to take the CIA job. At CENTCOM, according to Ricks’ reporting Mattis had been exasperating the Obama national security team by bringing up the operational, logistical and strategic challenges of putting together a strike against Iran – mostly described by the phrase “and then what?”
Why the hurry? Pentagon insiders say that he rubbed civilian officials the wrong way — not because he went all “mad dog,” which is his public image, and the view at the White House, but rather because he pushed the civilians so hard on considering the second- and third-order consequences of military action against Iran. Some of those questions apparently were uncomfortable. Like, what do you do with Iran once the nuclear issue is resolved and it remains a foe? What do you do if Iran then develops conventional capabilities that could make it hazardous for U.S. Navy ships to operate in the Persian Gulf? He kept saying, “And then what?”
Inquiry along these lines apparently was not welcomed — at least in the CENTCOM view. The White House view, apparently, is that Mattis was too hawkish, which is not something I believe, having seen him in the field over the years. I’d call him a tough-minded realist, someone who’d rather have tea with you than shoot you, but is happy to end the conversation either way.
Gen. Mattis has a hard-won reputation as a fighting general. He commanded the 1st Marine Division during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and played a key role in Operation Phantom Fury, the 2nd Battle of Fallujah, in late 2004.
Donilon, in contrast, has no military experience. He is an attorney by trade, and reached his zenith in the business world with a six-year tenure as the Executive Vice President for Law and Policy at Fannie Mae, the mortgage giant that had to be bailed out by taxpayers in 2008-2009. While at Fannie, Donilon headed an intense lobbying effort designed to avoid close scrutiny by federal regulators.
Donilon was appointed the deputy National Security Advisor to Marine Gen. James Jones in 2009, and became his successor. According to Tom Ricks’ reporting, Donilon has a poor reputation both with the uniformed services and with former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates – a Bush appointee whom Obama retained well into his first term. Indeed, Gates is quoted in Ricks’ book Fiasco as saying that Donilon as National Security Advisor would be a “disaster.”
According to Bob Woodward, author of the book Obama’s Wars, Gen. Jones wasn’t terribly impressed with Donilon as his Deputy National Security Advisor, either.
First, he had never gone to Afghanistan or Iraq, or really left the office for a serious field trip. As a result, he said, you have no direct understanding of these places. “You have no credibility with the military.” You should go overseas. The White House, Situation Room, interagency byplay, as important as they are, are not everything.
Second, Jones continued, you frequently pop off with absolute declarations about places you’ve never been, leaders you’ve never met, or colleagues you work with. Gates had mentioned this to Jones, saying that Donilon’s sound-offs and strong spur-of-the-moment opinions, especially about one general, had offended him so much at an Oval Office meeting that he nearly walked out.
Jones also admonished Donilon because of his poor relations with staffers.
According to the linked Huffington Post article, “Donilon did finally visit Afghanistan last March [in 2010] during President Obama’s six-hour late-night visit to the country.”
Mattis himself has been in hot water before, as well. For instance, he was counseled by the Commandant of the Marine Corps for his remarks at a conference in San Diego in 2005, in which he said “It’s fun to shoot some people.”
Incidentally, Ricks concluded his post, entitled The Obama Administration’s Inexplicable Handling of Marine General James Mattis, with these words:
I’m still a fan of President Obama. I just drove for two days down the East Coast listening to his first book, and enjoyed it enormously. But I am at the point where I don’t trust his national security team. They strike me as politicized, defensive and narrow. These are people who will not recognize it when they screw up, and will treat as enemies anyone who tells them they are doing that. And that is how things like Vietnam get repeated. Harsh words, I know. But I am worried.
The cognitive dissonance this contradiction warrants does not seem to have taken hold.
Kara Hultgreen was a promising young U.S. Navy aviator in the early 1990s. She didn’t get an Academy slot, but she graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a demanding degree in Aerospace Engineering. She entered Aviation Officer Candidate School (remember “An Officer and a Gentleman?) and graduated third out of seven in her class, and successfully flew EA-6A Prowlers out of NAS Key West.
In 1993, around the time the Clinton Administration was also trying to drop the prohibition on gays serving openly, the Air Force announced that it would drop the restriction on women serving as carrier pilots.
Kara Hultgreen was among a handful of women selected to train on the F-14 Tomcat – at that time, the premier Navy carrier-based fighter jet. She completed her flight training and was assigned to Fleet Replacement Squadron VF-124, and stationed aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln.
On October 25th, 1994, returning from a routine flight, she overshot the center line on the flight deck and tried to yaw her aircraft back on course. However, when a jet yaws, the air does not flow directly into the engine anymore. The F-14 engines were known to be susceptible to compression power loss as a result of the maneuver – a trait that was widely known among pilots flying that aircraft. Despite a wave-off, her left engine stalled. She hit the afterburners, but only the right engine engaged, flipping the aircraft to the left and upside down.
Her co-pilot ejected successfully at the last instant. Lieutenant Hultgreen didn’t make it. She was 29.
The Navy issued a press release saying that their walking poster girl for female aviation was killed because of equipment failure.
What they didn’t say, though, was that the Mishap Incident Report told a different story: Pilot error was to blame. And that’s when the stuffing hit the fan.
Events that followed revealed a concerted effort on the part of the Navy to make sure Kara Hultgreen and her classmates passed their F-14 Tomcat checkrides – no matter what.
After the Navy published the press release blaming Hultgreen’s death on equipment failure rather than pilot error, they stuck to the story despite the findings of the Naval Safety Center.
One officer who had access to the full Naval Safety Center report decided to leak it to the media, and slipped a copy to Elaine Donnelly, at the Center for Military Readiness – a conservative-leaning watchdog site. Donnelly ran with it – and was hit with a libel lawsuit by one of Hultgreen’s colleagues, another female F-14 pilot named Carey Lorenz.
Lorenz accused the Center for Military Readiness of causing her to lose her flight status when they published their report, Double Standards in Naval Aviation Training. The report accused Naval trainers of ‘fixing’ female Tomcat pilots’ grades to ensure they would pass.
Via the discovery process, the CMR also obtained training records from the Naval flight school at Miramar NAS, California. According to the CMR, a number of independent aviators reviewed Lorenz’s training records and confirmed they were the “worst they had ever seen.”
CMR further discovered documents that indicated that Kara Hultgreen’s flight instructor had recommended that her graduation be delayed or she should be dropped from the program. The Navy overruled her instructor’s recommendation.
From the CMRs’ account:
Patrick J. Burns was a naval flight officer and instructor in VF-124, a west coast (San Diego) squadron that trained Lts. Hultgreen and Lohrenz to fly the F-14 Tomcat. On several occasions, Lt. Burns warned local commanders that the two women were not fully competent to fly the Tomcat in carrier operations, but to no avail. In the post-Tailhook scandal era, the Navy was eager to win a “race with the Air Force” by getting women into combat aviation. At an all-officers meeting attended by Lt. Burns in the summer of 1994, then-Cmdr. Thomas Sobiek, who was the commander of the training squadron VF-124, informed a group of concerned instructors that the women would graduate to the fleet, no matter what. At that point Burns began to realize two things: One of the women pilots would die, and Navy officials would deny reasons why it happened. Lt. Burns asked for the help of CMR because communications up and down the chain of command had completely broken down. During an extensive investigation of sex discrimination in Air Wing 11, which was conducted by the Naval Inspector General in 1996, Sobiek flatly denied that he had made such a statement. Several of the instructors, however, testified to the contrary. During a subsequent interview with Mike Wallace of CBS “60 Minutes,” Sobiek finally admitted that he had made statements that may have conveyed the impression that the women would not be allowed to fail. He added that some female pilots were advanced in combat aviation ahead of many men who were kept waiting or forced to resign.
Lorenz sued Donnelly and the Center for Military Readiness for defamation – an effort that failed in court. A federal judge slapped down Lorenz’s suit against the CMR on the grounds that Lorenz, by virtue of taking the Tomcat billet, was a ‘limited purpose public figure.’
The Naval JAG office pulled out all the stops in attempting to block the truth from coming out – that both Hultgreen and Lorenz were marginally qualified on the F-14. Hultgreen was an experienced and successful pilot on the Prowler platform – but struggled to overcome some bad habits she inherited from the other airframe that made flying the F-14 more challenging and dangerous than it otherwise would have been.
Furthermore, the Navy’s Public Affairs officers went to the mat to conceal the Lohrenz’s poor training evaluations. Per the CMR:
Having exercised care and diligence, not “reckless disregard of the truth,” as claimed by Plaintiff Lohrenz, Donnelly published the CMR Special Report: Double Standards in Naval Aviation in April 1995. CMR was the only organization to spotlight this critical issue, in order to save lives.
A subsequent investigation of possible sex discrimination in Air Wing Eleven by the Naval Inspector General found that at the time Lohrenz was removed from carrier aviation by an evaluation board in May 1995, she ranked 113 of 113, and was washed out because of flying techniques that were “unsafe, undisciplined, and unpredictable.” Senior Landing Signal Officers (LSOs) testified that her flawed “high and fast” flying patterns, combined with her tendency to blame others for her own mistakes and to disregard instructions, made Lohrenz an “accident waiting to happen.”
Fast forward to today.
Since Lieutenant Hultgreen’s death nearly two decades ago, there has been a generation of successful (and not-so-successful) female naval aviators. As we open up thousands of billets to women warriors, our best young women are going to be drawn to the challenge.
But our military institutions, run as they are by flesh-and-blood men and women, who themselves answer to a political establishment with priorities that are not necessarily centered on safety and combat effectiveness, are flawed and fallible. The temptation is always there for officers and NCOs at school cadres to look the other way. The temptation to pass women through courses when they perhaps should not be passed through is going to be strong – and when members of Congress get involved in the process, the temptation to ignore standards and the needs of the military – including the needs of these young women – will be overwhelming at times.
Otherwise we will fall victim to the same quota and PR-driven mentality that caused the Navy to look the other way when Hultgreen and Lohrenz were having trouble flying their F-14s.
The health and welfare of ALL men and women in service should be the goal. Eyes on the prize.
Leave us your thoughts on women in combat roles in the comments section below.
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit to force the military to allow women to serve in combat units. The ACLU asserts that the policy that bars women from combat billets is “outdated” and discriminatory, and that women are denied promotion opportunities as a result. About 10 percent of the 205,000 servicemembers deployed to Afghanistan are female.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of four individual plaintiffs and the Service Women’s Action Network, or SWAN.
The complaint itself, Hegar, et al. v. Panetta, can be downloaded here.
Earlier this year, the Marine Corps opened up its Infantry Officer Basic School to women. Two women volunteered. One failed the initial endurance test, while the other withdrew for medical reasons not disclosed by the Marine Corps.
Highlights from the ACLU’s complaint:
“The DoD adopted a policy in 1994 that categorically excluded women from most combat positions, primarily in the Army and Marine Corps. This policy, with minor changes, remains in effect today. Under this policy, women are barred from being assigned to units below the brigade level whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground.”
“The combat exclusion policy is based on outdated stereotypes of women and ignores the realities of the modern military and battlefield conditions.”
“Those already serving in combat are not only barred from formal assignment to combat arms positions for which they have already proven themselves suited, but they are also denied the official recognition they need to advance their careers. They are prohibited from applying to certain schools, such as infantry schools, further limiting their potential for career advancement. Moreover, even though women are already serving in combat, the policy creates a presumption that women are not serving in combat, which further disadvantages women compared to men.”
“The DoD’s policy is one of the last vestiges of federal de jure discrimination against women. Nearly a century after women first earned the right of suffrage, the combat exclusion policy still denies women a core component of full citizenship — serving on equal footing in the military defense of our nation.”
“The DoD’s official and categorical exclusion of women from assignment to ground combat units harms the individual Plaintiffs, and thousands of servicewomen like them, in a variety of ways, including by denying them opportunities, training, and recognition during active service, and benefits after they have retired from service.”
“For example, over 80% of general officers in the Army came from combat arms positions, from which women are excluded.”
“A woman’s combat experience is not recognized as such, because she is only ‘attached’ but not ‘assigned’ to ground combat units, or she commands teams that serve ‘in support of’ but are not ‘part of’ ground combat units. For some servicewomen, such as Staff Sergeant Jennifer Hunt, their combat service conducting missions with infantry troops had no formal designation at all. For others, such as Captain Alexandra Zoe Bedell and First Lieutenant Colleen Farrell, their combat service leading FETs took place entirely outside of their official career specialties. Because of the combat exclusion policy, the combat service of these and many other women cannot be given official recognition within their career fields and therefore cannot be considered in the same way it would be for men in promotion decisions.”
“As a result of the policy, women have faced challenges in obtaining benefits and treatment for combat-related stress, among other benefits, because those processing veterans’ claims do not believe that women can be ‘in combat’.”
The ACLU is asking the courts to declare the Pentagon’s ban on women in combat billets to be unconstitutional, citing the right to equal protection under the law arising from the due process clause of the 5th amendment. The ACLU further asks that the courts prohibit the Pentagon from enforcing the ban in the future.
The ACLU filed suit in federal court in the Northern District of California.
Major Mary Hegar, a California Air National Guardsman and helicopter pilot and veteran of hundreds of air medevac missions. She received a Purple Heart when her helicopter was shot down over Afghanistan. She is also a recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross with a “V” device, indicating valor in combat.
Captain Zoe Bedell, USMCR. A logistics officer, Captain Bedell deployed twice to Afghanistan, where she served as an officer in charge of Female Engagement Teams (FETs). Captain Bedell states that she left the active duty Marine Corps because of the combat exclusion policy. She now works for Foros, LLC, a merger and acquisition consultancy based in New York City.
1st Lieutenant Colleen Farrell, USMC, is currently on active duty in the Marine Corps, where she served as a Female Engagement Team section leader. In that billet, she oversaw teams of women who served in direct support of infantry battalions.
So what do you think of the lawsuit? Do you think it’s a matter of recognizing the work women are already doing or should the policy remain in place? Tell us in the comments.
Photo Credit: Army Times