Military Personnel Cite Similar Issues, Concerns
By Staff Sgt. Alicia K. Borlik, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 28, 1997 Military personnel across the services cited similar issues and concerns to the executive committee of the Defense Advisory Committee for Women in the Services during an information-gathering mission to the Western Pacific in July.
The DACOWITS group recently presented its report to Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, who has asked Rudy De Leon, assistant secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, to follow up on the findings.
Committee members visited more than 2,400 active duty and reserve servicemen and women in Alaska, Korea, Japan, Okinawa and Guam. Service members consistently linked undermanning, underresourcing and increased operations, and personnel tempo as directly impacting morale and readiness.
The committee gathered information from more than 140 focus groups at 11 installations and ships. In addition, it discussed issues with servicemen and women from five installations in Japan and Hawaii.
DACOWITS Chair Judith Youngman said the committee opened each group session with the same two questions: "How's it going?" and "If you had five minutes to speak with the secretary of defense, what would you tell him?"
Overall, Youngman said, levels of concern expressed by service members in 1995 heightened in 1997 on several issues -- most notably morale, readiness, utilization of women, and support services for women and families.
The report found that high operations tempo and perceived undermanning, particularly in the Western Pacific naval activities and in the U.S. Army in Korea, have contributed to a personnel tempo described as stress-inducing.
"Officers don't have time to develop NCOs, and NCOs don't have time to develop junior enlisted personnel," was a theme heard at several installations. Youngman said, "It was a very interesting perception of optempo beginning to wear on the unit. It wasn't griping but presented as concern for troops, very positive."
In one session with enlisted personnel, primarily E-6 and above, service members said they felt they were stretched so thin that doing their jobs and filling their developmental leadership roles was difficult. Also of utmost concern was the perception that time and resources available for training were insufficient to maintain optimal readiness.
Youngman said two main gender-related issues were perceived inadequate support services for women and insufficient access to gynecologists. Military women in all services throughout the Western Pacific cited gynecological care as unavailable or poor. In many locations, routine gynecological care was provided by family practice physicians, flight surgeons, medical technicians and, in the Navy and Marine Corps, corpsmen.
Military women also linked child care, exchanges and commissaries to their combat readiness. "We saw exceptional child care centers," said Youngman. But their operating hours often don't match duty hours, she added. Also, the nonavailability and high cost of child care paired with too few spaces, especially for infants, adversely affects mission.
Command climates and equal opportunity environments varied across the theater. Youngman reported "realistic environments" in which service members trust their leadership to do the right thing. "Complaint processes are known, and their utilization not overly feared by women or men," she said. In these surroundings, military personnel openly discuss gender issues without hostility.
Members commonly perceived gender discrimination, however. In such environments, both men and women complained of double standards. For example, men and women felt women were assigned to administrative duties more frequently than men. The report said men thought the situation favored women, while women perceived the exact opposite.
Command climate was called harassing at a few installations; the climate at one was termed a hostile and polarized environment.
Quality of life issues raised by men and women alike were similar to concerns voiced in 1995 when DACOWITS visited the area. According to the report, common perceptions are that quality of life is not keeping pace with heightened optempo and perstempo, and that it is further eroded by downsizing and budget cuts.
In briefing Cohen and other leaders on the report, Youngman called DACOWITS an early warning system.
"Our function is to listen without agenda and report back perceptions to the secretary of defense and service secretaries," she said. "What really struck us was every issue raised in the report, we found, had been successfully addressed by one or more commands we visited. We want the women and men with whom we met to know that we listened and have shared their concerns with Secretary Cohen."