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DACOWITS Recommends Opening New Field to Women

By Staff Sgt. Alicia K. Borlik, USA
American Forces Press Service

RESTON, Va., May 11, 1998 – The Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services recommended opening all special operations helicopter positions to women.

DACOWITS will submit this and other recommendations on sexual harassment and gender-integrated training to Defense Secretary William S. Cohen prepared April 22-26 during the DACOWITS spring conference here. Service secretaries will also receive copies.

The advisory group researched and received briefings on the policy restricting special operations aviation positions. It concluded the policy unjustifiably excludes qualified women.

The Army, Air Force and U.S. Special Operations Command banned women from flying helicopters for special operations units based on DoD's 1994 direct ground combat rule. The rule excludes women from units below brigade level whose mission is to engage in direct ground combat, and it allows the services to bar women from units engaged in long-range reconnaissance and special operations forces missions.

DACOWITS also recommended Cohen issue a policy statement on sexual harassment, equal opportunity and gender discrimination, and to publicly emphasize his commitment to that policy. Committee members found military women perceived reporting incidents of sexual harassment as futile, or worse, and possibly resulting in retaliation.

Another recommendation would require the services to develop a set of common core questions for a standard survey on sexual harassment and race and ethnic issues. DACOWITS members said they found it hard to compare progress among the services without a baseline of data.

DACOWITS also recommended the services make gender-integration decisions based on best training techniques, not external pressures. The committee report noted both integrated and segregated basic training are working well. The Army, Navy and Air Force integrate some service members during basic training; the Marine Corps segregates them.

In response to committee requests, the spring conference's service representatives presented information on promotion opportunities for women and on violence against women. DACOWITS requested information for follow-up sessions on mentoring programs; gender-integrated training; and height, weight and body fat standards.

Continuing concerns include gender discrimination, leadership commitment to the sexual harassment policy, child care, women's health and violence against military women. The committee identified dual military couples and the impact of operations and personnel tempos on quality of life as two issues it needs to document further.

Committee members meet with military personnel throughout the year during visits to the field. They conduct focus group meetings and report back to the secretary of defense.

Members use the semiannual conferences to discuss fully the issues and concerns raised during the visits. They document issues and try to determine whether concerns are isolated events or widespread throughout the services. They then choose which to forward to Cohen.

"We're looking for things that seem across the board," said Army Lt. Col. Sandy Lewis, committee spokesperson. "Then we put in a request for more information."

The DACOWITS fall conference is scheduled Oct. 21-25 in Austin, Texas.

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