Eight female soldiers training to perform ground sweeps in the mountains of Afghanistan were removed from their Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition squadrons, an Army spokeswoman announced yesterday. The female soldiers were reassigned after the implementation of a Pentagon mandate forbidding women from participating in ground reconnaissance units, a reversal of a Clinton administration policy that made these units open to women. The mandate came despite an earlier Army announcement that it had no plans to change the units’ mixed-sex status, according to the Washington Times.
The ban also comes in the wake of another troubling Bush Administration change that may limit the role of women in the military. In March, the Pentagon fired all members of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS) and rewrote the charter for the 51-year-old committee severely restricting its role and forbidding independent site visits to military installations. While a new committee is currently being put together, no commitment has been made to ensure that women are adequately represented on the panel.
The destruction of the panel is even more disturbing as a federal district court struck down the Army’s promotional affirmative action policy this year. Despite 1997 figures that show women make up a mere 14 percent of Army personnel, the policy was deemed to unfairly favor women and minorities, according to the judge. A DACOWITS report in 1997 found that the practice of male commanders denying women leadership positions and assigning them to desk duty was “widespread.” At some bases, women were “openly demeaned and their roles in the military ridiculed.”