Women's Advisory Committee Seeking Recognition
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 12, 1996 Ask service members what they know about DACOWITS, and most will probably ask, "What's a DACOWITS?"
This perplexes Holly Hemphill, because the organization -- the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services -- has been around for more than 45 years.
"We'd like more people to know about DACOWITS," said Hemphill, committee chairwoman. "We've made a video that describes the history of our committee and women in the military to introduce commanders and troops to DACOWITS."
The committee is composed of 41 members from 25 states. They're prominent civilian women and men representing the professions, industry and public service. The secretary of defense appoints the members for three years. They are not paid.
Hemphill said every advance made by military women in nearly a half century resulted from DACOWITS recommendations.
"For example, there used to be a ceiling on number of women in the military and on women's promotions, which were removed at the urging of DACOWITS," said Hemphill, a principal partner in a Washington law firm. "Before that, women could only achieve one position per service at the colonel or Navy captain level."
Also among the panel's past recommendations: the opening of the military academies to women and the entitlement of military women's husbands to the same benefits given servicemen's wives. "As we look back now, it's hard to believe those kinds of policies were in effect, but they were," Hemphill said.
DACOWITS was created in 1951 to help avert a manpower shortage caused by the Korean War. The Department of Defense took unprecedented steps to attract women into the services to perform support and supply functions thereby freeing men for combat duties, defense officials said.
"Following the Korean War, the committee shifted from focusing on recruiting and retention to retention and career progression," Hemphill said. " There were many ups and downs. It wasn't until after the Vietnam War and our volunteer force was established that the role of women started to change. Once the military wasn't able to rely on men being conscripted, women became more important.
"The Gulf War was a major turning point for women," she said. "Women were ready, willing and able in the Gulf War, and they performed magnificently. Following the war, there was a big reassessment of women's roles in the military, particularly about women in combat-related jobs."
DoD opened to women more than 250,000 positions that were previously closed because they were considered combat-related, Hemphill said.
"So I think we're now in a completely different era," she said. "Even though the overall strength of the armed services is decreasing, the percentage of women is increasing." More than 327,000 women serve in the military today..
"Today, open-ended opportunities exist for women to fill nearly all of the previous nontraditional jobs that were closed to them in the past," Secretary of Defense William J. Perry said in a 45th anniversary letter to DACOWITS. "As a result, increased numbers of women continue to join the services and are making careers as pilots and flight crews on combat aircraft."
Speaking at the committee's recent semiannual conference, Perry said DACOWITS has been a key to opening new avenues and new careers for women in the military. "You've not only been my eyes and ears as they relate to everything from child care to readiness, you've also been truly agents of change, and you've helped us bring forth leaders who can manage change and seize the opportunities that change presents," he said.
DACOWITS for more than 27 years was run by women for women. Men's service on the committee was viewed as unneeded. The first men were appointed in 1978, Hemphill said.
Committee members didn't even seek men's opinions during visits to installations. They were concerned only with what women had to say. But that, too, has changed.
"We started talking to men because they benefit from our initiatives, too," Hemphill noted. "For example, housing, medical facilities, child care, a lot of quality of life issues have exactly the same impact on men as they do on women. Men appreciate the efforts we've made to remedy some of those problems as well.
"We can't really solve issues related to women in the work place without understanding the male viewpoint," Hemphill noted.
Since the DACOWITS chair is limited to a one-year tenure, Hemphill said, "We have a lot of different issues on our plate, but we want to focus on things we can see progress in one year's time."
Hemphill said she wants to highlight prejudicial behavior and the adverse effect this behavior toward women has on military readiness.
"It's not just egregious acts like sexual harassment, it's also negative comments in the work place that would denigrate the professional role of women," said Hemphill, who started her three-year tour on the committee in 1994.
She said she would like to see concrete rules concerning career progression and retention. "We're interested in ensuring the 250,000 jobs that were opened to women in 1993 become reality instead of just on paper," Hemphill said. "We're particularly interested in women in combat aviation."
Improvements in women's uniforms is high on DACOWITS' agenda. "Over the years, military women have consistently told us they have problems with the fit, quality and availability of uniform items," Hemphill said. "This issue has come up about 15 of the last 30 years. So we'd like to work with DoD to get some concrete action to address this issue."
That's one of the committee's recommendations DoD officials are already studying. "DoD has formed a task force to address the uniform issue," she noted.
Last year, committee members made more than 60 visits to talk to service members at military installations worldwide. Hemphill said she wants to increase the number of visits to active duty, National Guard and reserves units.
"That's how they gather information for reports and recommendations to the secretary of defense," she noted. "We don't go out as inspectors or with an agenda to gather information. We visits the bases to talk to women. And we're also talking to men now to hear what they're saying. The idea is to listen."