August 9, 2001 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

A Kinder, Gentler ... Less-Fit Military

Walk, don't run. That's an order for the service men and women of U.S. Southern Command headquarters in Miami. Their weekly fitness runs were terminated recently when a female officer claimed they were "demeaning."

According to media reports, the officer objected that the Friday jogs "subjected slow runners to ridicule from faster runners." And you thought war was hell.

To make matters worse, the officer's letter of complaint -- discreetly sent to members of Congress as well as Pentagon brass -- has sparked a full-bore investigation within the Defense Department.

But as DOD's Inspector General investigates the weekly run and other complaints about the "command climate" at SOUTHCOM HQ, those concerned about America's military readiness can only shake their heads about what has happened to the warrior culture that once infused our armed forces.

As more and more of our troops fall into the hands of people more interested in social experimentation than national security, it's becoming apparent that military readiness has been sacrificed on the altar of political correctness.

Most of the problem can be traced to the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS), a 50-year-old civilian board that, according to its charter, advises the Secretary of Defense "on the full range of matters relating to women in the Services." Over the years, DACOWITS has morphed into a hotbed of feminism driven by the flawed theory that, were it not for artificial barriers to women, they would be interchangeable with men in all military tasks.

Hence today's "gender-integrated" basic training, tellingly summarized in Lee Bockhorn's review of Stephanie Gutmann's 2000 book, "The Kinder, Gentler Military." Bockhorn writes that boot camp has transformed from a "tear'em-down-and-build-them-back up" experience to one devoted to boosting recruits' self-esteem.

Bockhorn points out that recruits used to have to earn the designation of soldier; now, they are considered such from day one. Obstacle courses are now called "confidence courses." Teamwork has been given a whole new meaning to mask the fact that some jobs -- say, carrying a wounded 200-pound comrade back from the front or handling a fire hose on a burning ship's deck -- require twice as many women as men. There are also ability groups, limits on drill sergeants' motivational techniques, and even training timeouts when the poor dears get too tired.

Time once devoted to physical training now gets wasted on sensitivity training. Recruits learn that looking at a female for more than three seconds constitutes sexual harassment. Performance standards have been "gender-normed" at the behest of DACOWITS. Women get a three-minute grace period to complete their three-mile run. One can only hope that when an Army unit is needed to contain an enemy breakthrough a few miles away, it will be no big deal if the female contingent straggles into the fray a few minutes late.

And yet, even with the dumbing down of basic training, 47 percent of females in the military bail out before the end of their third year of service, compared to 28 percent for men. Perhaps that's because female soldiers resent how DACOWITS, in its zeal to make the military more female-friendly, advocates policies that lead to lower standards and declining military readiness.

President Bush was right to request more money to restore military readiness. Yet the problem demands more than additional funding. The president and Congress must roll back the policies of social experimentation that weaken our nation's ability to fight and win.

Let the social scientists worry about verbal interaction among "ability groups." But let the administration and Congress put national security ahead of political correctness.

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Jack Spencer is a policy analyst at the Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org), a public policy research institute.

About the Author

Jack Spencer Vice President, the Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity

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