Mixed Training Sites Impress Cohen
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
LACKLAND AFB, Texas/ FORT JACKSON, S.C., March 4, 1997 Integrated training -- men and women training in the same units -- is working well at the two military training centers he visited Feb. 27 and 28, said Defense Secretary William Cohen.
On his first trip since taking office Jan. 24, Cohen said he wanted to see integrated training because of congressional concern over recent sexual harassment cases at the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., and other stateside military training sites. Critics question whether the Army, Navy and Air Force should continue integrated training or conduct separate training for men and women like the Marine Corps, he said.
"I'm open to any suggestions and always will try to keep an open mind on this," he said, "but I have to be persuaded there's compelling evidence as to why integrated training should not be continued."
About 34,000 Air Force recruits attend basic training at Lackland each year, Air Force officials there said. About 26 percent of Lackland's trainees are women. About 32,000 soldiers attended basic combat training at Jackson in fiscal 1996, and about 35 percent of them were women, Army officials there said.
Military officials are working to determine if sexual harassment is deeply ingrained or if it is confined to specific installations or facilities. "We want to know how deep that problem goes, and if we find it is deeply ingrained, then we have to take a lot of very aggressive measures to correct it," Cohen said.
The armed forces have had similar problems in the past dealing with drug abuse and racial discrimination, Cohen said. "We have fixed those problems, and we will fix this problem. I'm confident of that."
Cohen said recruits at Lackland told him they would like integrated training to continue.
He said he believes DoD should let the services determine what works best for them. They are legally responsible for recruiting and training.
"Sexual harassment is totally inconsistent with the values our military is promoting -- integrity and equality," Cohen said. The Army has been dealing with the issue in an "admirable fashion," he said. "They are dealing with it in a very proactive fashion."
During a briefing at Lackland, Air Force Col. Toreaser Steel, commander, 737th Training Group, said integrated training works well for the Air Force. "We think it's very important to train the way we work and fight," she told the defense secretary.
Steel outlined the base policy against sexual harassment, featuring zero tolerance, prevention through education, communication and strong action against offenders. Sexual harassment training is an integral part of Air Force training, she said. Recruits receive sexual harassment training within 24 hours of arriving at the basic training base.
Following Steel's formal brief, Cohen asked the 22-year Air Force veteran for her personal view on gender-integrated training. Steel told the secretary she believes eliminating integrated training would be a big step backward for the military and the nation.
"It would be extremely costly to return to providing separate training for men and women," she said. "Integrated training is vital to our mission and our readiness.
"It's important that we form the right foundation from the beginning, and that's what we're all about here at basic military training, building a strong foundation," she said later. "A foundation built on anything other than the way we're going to fight is not the foundation we need."
Tech. Sgt. Dawn E. Whitman, a training instructor at Lackland's, 322nd Training Squadron, also briefed Cohen on integrated training. Pointing out the discipline evident in the tightly made bunks and wall locker displays in a basic training barracks, Whitman told Cohen about her job as a "TI" who has trained men and women.
Integrated training is the only kind Senior Master Sgt. Paula Burns has ever known, she said. The 322nd Training Squadron's training superintendent entered the military in 1980 in what was called a "coed squadron." People in the military today are used to women being in the military; they're accustomed to integrated training, Burns said. Women make up a substantial segment of the military population, she said.
"We're here," she said. "We are part of the world. To say that integration of the sexes is the cause for sexual harassment, to me, automatically implies it's my fault for being here." In this day in age, she said, she can't even imagine anyone questioning whether women should be in the military.
Burns trained recruits in integrated units for more than nine years. She said ending integrated training would mean reverting to something the military has already put to rest. "It would be terrible for the Air Force and the military," she said.