The Heritage Foundation

Backgrounder Update #184

July 8, 1992

July 8, 1992 | Backgrounder Update on

"Tailhook" Aftermath: Don't Feminize the Fleet

(Archived document, may contain errors)

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7/8/92 Nb., 184


(Updating BackgrounderNo. 836,'Vomen in Combat: Why Rush to Judgment?" June 14,1991.) Asthe Navy, Congress, and the American people consider the now notorious "Tailhoole' sexual miscon- duct case, perspective is required. Twenty-six women have charged that they were sexually assaulted by a number of officers at last September's annual convention of the Tailhook Association, the professional or- ganization of naval and marine aviators. U the charges turn out to be true, then those guilty should be pun- ished to the fullest extent of the law. Sexual misconduct represents a grave breach of professionalism and has no place in the military. However, the uproar surrounding this incident threatens to harm the effective- ness of the Navy as a fighting force. Promotions of fleet commanders have been held up, and some in Con- gress, such as Representative Patricia Schroeder, the Colorado Democrat, are saying that the only way to prevent sexual misconduct in the military is to put women in combat. The result is plummeting morale and disarray in one ofthe finest fighting forces the world has ever seen. - This is going too far. Concern about eradicating sexual misconduct in the military should not be allowed to destroy the very reason for the military's existence: to protect the security of all Americans. The culprits, if they are guilty, should be punished, but the Navy as a whole should not be condemned. Nor should the Navy be forced to embark on some social experiment-by putting women in combat positions, for example -which not only will do nothing to stop sexual misconduct, but will also weaken the team cohesivenes's and fighting ability that is the key to winning battles and wars. Tailhook and its Aftermath. The Tailhook saga began last September in Las Vegas at the convention of the Tailhook Association, named for the device that stops landing aircraft on the decks of carriers. Lt. Paula Coughlin says that she was forced to run a gauntlet down a hotel hallway fined with Navy officers who grabbed her breasts and tried to remove her clothing. After the Navy investigated this incident, it was dis- covered that possibly seventy officers engaged in such assaults on at least 26 women (fourteen of them fel- low officers) at the Las Vegas convention. The damage from this incident has been compounded by the presence and alleged complicity of senior officers, by failures throughout the chain of command to respond adequately to complaints, and by revelations that reports of misconduct from earlier conferences were ig- nored. Navy Secretary H. Lawrence Garrett M resigned on June 26, invoking the Navy's traffition of bear- ing full responsibility for the actions of his men. Although Garrett has not been accused of participating in or condoning the events at the Tailhook symposium, which he attended, his handling of the subsequent in- vestigation has been widely criticized. Tailhook and Congres& The initial congressional response to the Tailhook affair is damaging the morale and combat effectiveness of the Navy. From June 4 to July 2, Congress delayed the promotions of roughly 4,500 Navy and Marine officers above the rank of Navy Lt. Commander and Marine Corps Major in order to determine whether any of them was involved in the Tailhook incident. Many changes of command were B postponed, including those for the forces- responsible for the waters off Yugoslavia, and the naval base at Neu Nodmgwnumbmntobecons&uW=oftvmwUyrefkcftdwvkwoofMwilFousdmwornm auum" fo aN w hindw da pump of my Wit bdwe Congrem Ou 'Bay, where thouiifidi bf-H-aitian refugees are currently -being housed as antanamo d,.pxocpkse4. @Th Hduse' Appropriations Committee, chaired by Pennsylvania DemocratJohn P. Murtha,. onjyne.@R-voted to double its original cut of 5,000 positions from Navy: headquartmj.Murtha said that this,actiga wps "di-- rectly connected to thebbstruction and-arrogance of the Navyz"P Representative Schroedermeanwhile has triq0Jtb -*so th 6utctvov'er,Tailhoo - to. bolster -her" &@e fdrplac- ing women in combat positions. For example, in a June'29 inierview on Cable"News Network concerning the Tailhook incident, Schroeder criticized the Navy"s handling of the issue, implying that the real problem was the unequal treatment of women. -She said: V you're the best for the job and you want the job, you get iL. 91 meanin '' bfcourse, a combat job. go The idea of Schroeder and other liberal lawmakers seems to be that the military is the proper place for so- vial engineering, no different from any other @vorkpla6e, and perfectly suitable to applying the feminist prin- ciples of absolute equality between the sexes. Represenative Barbara Boxer, the Calffomia Democrat, said in a June 28 television interview concerning the Tailhook controversy: "The thing about the military is, it has always been a place for opportunity, first for people of color-they broke the color barrier-and then for women. We have more work to-do here and in other areas, but we've got to make sure we move for- ward." Moving forward for Boxer, of course, is putting women into combat In her view, the military is more important as a vehicle for curing social ills than as a fighting machine. ' Unfortunately, military leaders are showing sips of caving into the kind of pressure generated by Schroe- der and Boxer.

Example: When asked whether the problem of misconduct would be solved by placing more women on ships, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Frank Kelso, replied on June 28 that he was waiting for the report of the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces, which is due in November. He failed to speak out against placing women in combat. In fact, in several appearances before this Commission, not a single senior Navy officer has argued strongly against allowing women into combat.

Example: Rear Admiral Leonard N. Oden, the commander of the Naval Tmining Center in Orlando, Florida, describes an experimental co-educational "boot camp" for recruits as incredibly successful. Mixed gender recruit platoons are outperforming their all-male counterparts in training. But peacetime training is far removed from combat. The fact that the sexes have separate sanitary and housing facilities, totally impossible to accomplish in combat units or aboard combat ships in war, is not made clear.

Militm7 Leaders Must Hold the Line. In this emotionally charged atmosphere, the Navy's leaders must follow dim courses of action. They must: 1) expeditiously but fairly investigate and punish those who are found guilty in the Tailhook case; 2) continue vigorously their support for the "zero tolerance" pol- icy toward sexual misconduct that was developed in 1989; and 3) forcefully explain to Congress and the American public why women should not be allowed in combat. Women do not belong in combat for several reasons. There is a risk that physical standards for combat training will be compromised if women am allowed into combat positions where those standards are criti- cally important, such as in the infantry and in special operations units. There is also the disruption of the military's mission that will result from the pregnancy of female troops in combat positions.

BUt-n16stV&*a'Wn9. would be-the.devastating.impAct on the.-morale. team cohesion. and fighting spirit of th6!hr6ed-fbix1A,Q*nbat i's irleim activity Which brin s ipfantrymen and sailors more clos togei;heri 9 ely, than afty other form of work. Some women may-indeed physically and perform some combat duties, but what matters more in combat. is not individual ability, but teamwork..The presenqe, of women in. c9n1bat units, especially. those in the infptry, would disrupt the teamwork that make's a. diffeirnce between victory and .defeat on'thi battlefield. Special re''lhtionships inevitably would de- @eiop, intro4ucing ne' :w iiiks 'as men actdd differently . in.combat toward females than they do toward niales. If Schroeder and other feminists want to solve the sexual misconduct problem in the military, the last thing they should do is advocate putting women into combat. Female soldiers will be- taken prisoner and sexually abused by enemy forces. This is precisely what happened to Maj. Rhonda Comum when she was taken captive by the Iraqis during the Persian Gulf War'. She was, she later acknowledged, "violated man- ually--vaginally and rectally." It makes little sense to expose women to new and even more horrific threats in the name of protecting them from their own American colleagues. The Navy as an institution should not be made a scapegoat as the Congress tries to find a solution to the -sexual misconduct problem in the services. 11is not only would be unfair to the thousands of male Navy of- ficers and personnel who do not abuse women, it would damage the fighting capability of the Navy, which would be a disservice to the nation and the American people whom it is entrusted to protect. The Navy is a fine institution. It has successfully responded to problems of racial prejudice and drug abuse which continue to plague the civilian world. Its policy of "zero tolerance!' for drugs, enforced by ran- dom testing and dismissal for offenders, virtually eliminated the problem when it was implemented in 198 1. There is every reason to believe that the problem of sexual misconduct will be dealt with in the same man- ner. Outside pressure to find the culprits of sexual misconduct is fine, but damaging the integrity of the Navy as an institution should not be the cost. America Does Not Need A Kinder, Gentler Mlitary. Despite their justified outrage at the Tailhook in- cident, Americans must realize that the military needs fighters, not laboratory subjects for experiments in social engineering. The purpose of the military is to fight and win wars, not to serve as a jobs program or as a vehicle for social change. If the federal government is to ask men to risk their lives in combat, it must not create an environment that will increase that risk. This is what putting women into combat positions would do. Far from solving the problem of sexual misconduct, women in combat would merely feminize the war- rior culture of the armed services, and thereby weaken its ability to do its job. John Luddy Policy Analyst

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