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Advisory Committee Set to Report on Women's and Family Issues

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 25, 2003 – The Defense Department's advisory committee on women's and family issues is preparing its annual report for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

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Retired Marine Lt. Gen. Carol Mutter, chair of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, said the group promotes a fair, equitable and professional work environment where women are accepted and respected as equals. Photo by Rudi Williams
  

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The Defense Department's Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, or DACOWITS, listened to the concerns of 580 people during visits to 15 military installations throughout the United States and Europe during fact-finding missions from March to July.

A three-person team spent 12 days in June interviewing people in Germany and Italy. During their travels, committee members conducted 61 focus group sessions concerning women and addressing family issues in the military.

DACOWITS will report to Rumsfeld at the end of the calendar year on the issues raised during the interviews. The committee also will report on additional research gathered through business meetings, partnerships with existing organizations and published reports and surveys.

Established in 1951 by then-Defense Secretary George Marshall, DACOWITS advises the secretary on how to recruit more women for the armed forces, increase their retention rate and improve the use of their skills. A revised charter in 2002 also focused the committee's efforts on military family issues.

Current committee chair, retired Marine Lt. Gen. Carol Mutter, noted that focus groups are composed of a mixture of family members and military personnel of different ranks. "We have male-only focus groups, female-only groups, and they're divided up by rank to prevent putting a damper on discussions," she pointed out.

She said junior and senior enlisted people are split into different groups, as are junior and senior officers. Focus groups also are divided into men's and women's groups, and separate family member discussions are held. The topics discussed included women's health, women's retention, and effects of deployments on service and family members.

Mutter said DACOWITS is trying to find out why women officers' retention percentage rates in some year groups are lower than men's after their initial contract.

"We validated what's in some studies that says family time is extremely important to men and women," Mutter said. "The lack of personal and family time is the first reasons cited most often by women as to why they leave. That's the second reason for men."

One DACOWITS' recommendation is to ensure that hostile or discriminatory work environments don't exist for women in DoD, she said. "That can be the extra piece that pushes people over the edge and makes them decide to leave," the general noted. "We're going to continue to look at this issue next year and try to home in the reasons why and come up with some more specific recommendations."

In addition to looking at women's health care in general, the committee is trying to determine how to make military health care facilities the provider of choice, Mutter said.

"We want to make sure the department is doing what it should be doing to serve customers in the health care arena," she noted. "In particular, we were asked to look at OB/GYN care obstetrics and gynecology for women. The women population in the military is very small, but the department also serves the spouses and children."

With large numbers of babies born in military treatment facilities every year, DoD officials asked the committee to look into whether women are receiving quality care in those facilities, Mutter added.

Topping the list of the committee's concerns in health care is whether women have proper access to health care and can get timely appointments. Officials also are concerned about what happens after a patient gets an appointment, such as getting care in the first trimester of pregnancy and the quality of that care.

DACOWITS found that health care for women has improved measurably in recent years, the general said. "There have been a lot of positive changes initiated by the department," she added. "But there are still problems with access, getting timely appointments and the continuity of care. Sometimes they have to see different doctors on subsequent visits."

Privacy is another area of concern for women, Mutter noted. "In some facilities, there isn't always the privacy available in some of the interview sessions leading up to seeing a doctor."

The effect of deployments on service members and their families also is a matter of concern. Mutter said that because of the global war on terrorism, service members are absent more frequently from their families.

"This is an additional stress for the military member and the family left behind," Mutter noted. "Some military members left behind on the bases end up picking up an extra load and doing extra work. So we wanted to look into that and find out what some of the stresses are.

"Unfortunately, by the time we got out to some of the installations, we were visiting ghost towns, because they were already deployed in very large numbers," she noted. "We talked to military members and families left behind and got some good information. The biggest area here is lack of information or misinformation, which (both cause) stress."

Child care is another major concern for military families, she noted. "The department has some goals to increase the available child care," Mutter said. "Families need the flexibility to handle unique situations that come up pre- deployment and during deployments that don't have a lot of advance warning."

She said DoD officials asked the committee to find out if women were deployed with their units, or if they're being held back. Committee members also were asked if it appeared that women were being used correctly, and the answer was yes, Mutter said. But she qualified that answer: "A lot of people were gone, so it will be an area we'll look into in more detail next year," she said.

Looking toward 2004, Mutter said, "We'll continue in the retention area, because we felt like we just scratched the surface on the data on that and being able to provide good answers. We'll also continue with deployment issues next year."

The stress and difficulty service members experience when adjusting from a combat environment to a garrison environment is another concern the committee plans to look into, the general said.

"We want to find out what they feel were the real important things that caused them pain, as opposed to what might have been the most painful thing," she said. "We'd also like to know what the biggest stressors were, and what things they'd like DoD to focus on to help make things better should this happen again."

Mutter said committee members, some with military experience, were impressed with the men and women in uniform and the families they talked to. "They were uniformly impressed with the dedication, professionalism and sacrifices being made by all the young men and women they talked to," she said.

As to outcries in the civilian community about women being put in harm's way, Mutter said that outcry isn't what's important. "What's important is what the military men and women think," she emphasized.

"Women join the military because they want to do their part, and they feel like they owe something back to this country. To not allow them to do that by keeping them away from a deployed environment is not conducive to military readiness," she said. "That's because they're not there to help do the job which they were trained for. That would also disenfranchise them, because they can't do their part to help defend this country."

Mutter said before her tenure is up, she'd like to get DACOWITS on a new footing so the committee will know "what it's doing and how it's doing it."

She explained that the more streamlined committee of today means new ways of doing things. "It's process-oriented because we're a much smaller committee than we were before, which is much easier in many ways," she noted. "But because of that, we have different procedures and processes in place."

DACOWITS is made up of a chair and 12 members -- 11 women and two men. The general said the committee is looking at long-term trends by adding briefings on survey data and melding those findings in with information gathered during focus group meetings.

Asked if being a woman has made her a better lieutenant general, or being a lieutenant general made her a better woman, Mutter said, "Being a lieutenant general hasn't made me a better woman. But it has perhaps helped the process of promotion through the ranks, and all I went through to make it to that level. It helped me to achieve more as a female than I might have been able to do in another walk of life."

She said there are a lot of male generals and very few women generals, but the diversity is important and makes for better decision-making. Mutter credits her husband, retired Marine Col. James "Jim" M. Mutter, with being her mentor and "giving me the male perspective, which was very important to have as a female coming up through the ranks."

The general used a football analogy to explain her perspective. "Eleven star quarterbacks on the field will not make it to the Super Bowl. You've got to have different talent, different perspectives, and different capabilities working together as a team," she said. "I think women at the senior levels in the military do bring a different perspective in general. We do come from a slightly different angle, and we bring a new perspective to some of the deliberations of the board of directors for the services."

Mutter said the evolution of women getting into more jobs in the military would continue. "There were some major changes made after Desert Storm in the early '90s, and we're still playing out those changes," she said.

It's a matter of getting women trained in those fields, then letting them grow up through the ranks and become senior in those fields, she noted. Her own record lists her as the first woman to be qualified as command center crew commander and space director at then-U.S. Space Command, the first woman Marine major general and the first woman nominated by the president for three-star rank.

"It hasn't been that many years since we had the first woman pilot squadron commanders and ship commanders," she said. "So those changes take time."

DACOWITS promotes a fair, equitable and professional work environment where women are accepted and respected as equals, Mutter said.

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