Military Undergoing 'Evolutionary Change' for Women in Service
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 27, 2005 When Carol Mutter joined the Marine Corps nearly 40 years ago, women were not allowed to be admirals or generals and could make up no more than two percent of the U.S. armed forces.
The military changed a lot during her 31 years of service.
"The roles that women fulfill in the military have changed (and) evolved, and women have always been up to the task," she said today during an interview with the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service. "They've always responded very, very well to new roles, new challenges, and so on. There've been a lot of changes. The theme I think has been evolutionary change (for women) in my time in the military."
Since she retired as a three-star general in 1999, Mutter has done even more to help advance women's role in the uniformed services. Since 2002, Mutter has been chairwoman of the Defense Department Advisory Committee on Women in the Services. In this role, she chairs a group that studies issues pertaining to women and families and makes annual recommendations to DoD.
In 2004, DACOWITS members conducted 70 focus groups during visits to 12 military installations. Their recommendations, based on findings from these focus groups, surveys and studies, focus on three main areas: retention -- particularly of female officers with families, deployment issues and sexual assaults.
Regarding retention, Mutter explained, the committee found that the services are retaining women officers with families at lower rates than other groups. The numbers vary among services and components, but the underlying theme with these officers not staying in the military is a problem with "work-life balance," she said.
In 2005, the committee will delve further into this issue and look more closely at specific items under the umbrella of work-life balance. Specific issues for the committee to explore in 2005 might include more flexible childcare options and ways to add flexibility to career paths. For instance, Mutter said, the Coast Guard offers certain members a two-year sabbatical to deal with family issues such as having a child or caring for an elderly parent.
Issues pertaining to deployments include ensuring military members have sufficient time to spend with their families before deployment, plenty of opportunities for communicating with families during deployment, and enough time to readjust to being part of a family after deployment. "Communication is extraordinarily important," Mutter said.
She said that the committee recommended that 100 percent of redeploying servicemembers undergo screening to identify possible readjustment problems after every deployment. "It needs to be everybody -- from private to general," she said. "Because if there are any exceptions, then people will opt out and there will be people who really need help who will not get that help."
Mutter lauded the work of DoD's Task Force on Care for Victims of Sexual Assaults. In mid-2004, that task force released a 99-page report that included recommendations to help prevent sexual assaults within the military and provide the best possible care for victims.
"We applaud those recommendations and the actions that the department has taken since then to move toward implementing many of the recommendations," Mutter said. "There's a lot of good work that has been done."
Still, she added, more could -- and should -- be done to prevent sexual assaults within the military and to punish those who commit such crimes. Mutter said her committee recommended that all agencies within DoD agree to a single definition of sexual assault to ease reporting and data collecting and that the department issue a firm, clearly worded zero-tolerance policy on sexual assault.
"Zero tolerance against sexual assault needs to be a matter of formalized policy from the leadership in the Department of Defense and at every level of command all the way down to the lowest level," she said.
DoD also needs to do a better job of ensuring confidentiality to victims, Mutter said, adding that this will ensure more people report crimes against them.
The general said the fundamental changes she's seen regarding women serving in the military have come slowly, but she thinks this is the right way to go about fundamental changes.
"It's been very much an evolutionary process," she said. "And I believe evolutionary change is more long-lasting change. If you can change it quick then it can be unchanged real quick, too. So if you do it in steps and make sure the steps are all implemented in a way that makes sense then it will be long-lasting change."