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Panel Urges Same-sex Small Basic Training Units

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 17, 1997 – The smallest units in recruit training will be same-sex if DoD accepts the recommendations of the Federal Advisory Committee on Gender-Integrated Training and Related Issues.

The panel recommends more resources and care go to selecting and training recruit trainers and to recruit more female trainers. The panel strongly supports a gender-integrated military force, said committee chair former Kansas Sen. Nancy Kassebaum Baker.

"We feel strongly in support of gender-integrated training," Kassebaum Baker said. "We feel strongly that even more areas should be made open to women in the military and salute the advances that have been made over the past several years in that regard as doors have been opened."

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said it is a "good report" and has turned it over to the military services for their reviews and responses. The services have 90 days to respond to Cohen.

Committee recommendations touch on recruiting, training cadre, basic training organization and requirements, and teaching professional relationships. The members also address advanced schooling, values training and training resources.

"We want the secretary [of defense] to look at this as a complete package," Kassebaum Baker said. "Training is a building-block process that starts with a quality recruit."

One aspect that will affect all service members is the panel's recommendation that the services make basic training tougher. "Wherever we went -- and we interviewed more than a thousand people -- recruits told us basic training should be more challenging and demanding. ... We'll take them at their word, and we've recommended the services make training tougher, especially in the end," Kassebaum Baker said. The report praised the Marines and the Navy for their "Crucible" and "Battle Stations" field exercises that culminate basic training. It urges the Army and Air Force to develop similar events.

The panel says advanced military training should maintain high standards of discipline and military bearing through the training cycle. "We found discipline dropped in advanced schools," said panel member retired Marine Maj. Gen. Donald R. Gardner. "The services should keep that continuum high."

The most contentious issue was gender integration at the lowest level training units. This is the platoon in the Army, recruit division in the Navy and flight in the Air Force. The panel recommends these be same-sex units. Members believe this would have little impact on gender-integrated training.

"We are talking about housing teen-agers in separate dormitories for the first six to 10 weeks of their military careers," said Deval Patrick, a former U.S. assistant attorney general for civil rights. "The training that runs at the dormitory level will continue at the dormitory level."

But most training occurs at the next higher level. "Seventy percent of the training, even from Day 1, is gender-integrated, preparing, we think, recruits for a gender-integrated military experience," Patrick said.

Patrick said he believes the whole aspect of same-sex small units has been blown out of proportion.

Leadership is at the crux of training, Kassebaum Baker said. The Marines have done well making the job of drill instructor prestigious and career-enhancing, according to the report. The other services must do the same.

"No one works harder than drill sergeants, drill instructors, recruit division commanders or military training instructors," said retired Vice Adm. Richard C. Allen, another panel member. "Only the best will do for these jobs. If [the services] make the jobs attractive, if they make them career-enhancing, then [quality trainers] will come."

Part of ensuring quality recruits is quality recruiting, the report states. The panel recommends linking recruiters' credit with their recruits' successful completion of basic training. Further, members recommend the services decrease emphasis on monetary incentives in advertising and appeal to more motivational themes such as patriotism and overcoming challenges.

The panel wants improved recruiter training so they are better informed, more up-to-date and consistent. The members recommend more female recruiters.

The panel also recommends better use of the delayed entry program. About 70 percent to 80 percent of all recruits spend at least a month in the program. During this time, recruits should receive instruction in core values, military subjects and physical training.

The panel wants better checks on recruit trainers and more trainers of both sexes. "In some cases, the staffing ratio is one [instructor] to 200 [recruits]," said Gardner. "This is too high." The committee wants the Army, Navy and Air Force to increase the number of training cadre.

The committee also wants better, more realistic training for recruit trainers. Army, Navy and Marine Corps instructors need training in dealing with the real-life problems they face in the field, said Allen.

The committee wants the services to clarify trainers' authority. "The goal of any action plan to curtail abuses of power is not to undermine the authority of the training cadre to render it ineffective in implementing the training programs, but rather to ensure tight accountability, to deter against abuse, and to encourage reporting of abuses," the committee says. Its report calls on the services to find a balance between providing the means for reporting abuses and maintaining the instructors' authority.

The panel wants to improve instruction on how men and women should relate to each other. Panel members say recruit trainers oversimplified sexual harassment.

"For example, recruits had been briefed at several installations that looking at a female for more than three seconds constitutes sexual harassment," the report states. Other trainers instituted a "no talk, no touch" policy.

"Seems a bit ridiculous to have males and females together in platoons and not let them talk," said Marilyn V. Yarbrough, another panel member. "That's why we're recommending doing away with the 'no talk, no touch' policies." Other recommendations from the panel are:

  • Toughen physical fitness requirements and expand instruction on nutrition and wellness.
  • End the split option for reserve component soldiers. Under this option the Army allows reserve component soldiers to do basic training at one time (typically between semesters) and advanced training later.
  • Increase support-group staffing and enhance availability to recruits.
  • End the recruiters assistant program.
  • Eliminate "stress cards" in the Navy. Stress cards are listings of sailors rights that recruits can pull out if they think recruit division commanders are being too tough on them.
  • Enforce policies to eradicate disparaging references to gender.
  • Teach consistent rules on fraternization.
  • Enforce tough punishments for false accusations regarding sexual harassment and misconduct.

Finally, the panel recommends improved values training in all initial entry training programs. Members specifically cite the Marine Corps for its Core Values training program and suggests the other services adopt it.

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