Viewpoint: Soldiers Who Work Together Should Train Together


by Lt. Col. Karen Johnson USAF (Ret.), 
NOW Vice President Membership

For over a year we've been a captive audience to revelations of military men sexually harassing, assaulting and raping military women. Just when we hoped that military women were no longer getting tail-hooked by military men, we learned of the obscene at Aberdeen -- young women attending advanced military training, sexually assaulted and raped by their military superiors.

Riding the wave of outrage in the wake of Aberdeen, some public leaders were quick to surmise that we should have foreseen the obscene at Aberdeen. After all, they said, the scandalous behavior was not due to a failure of leadership, inadequate supervision of the drill instructors, abuse of power, or deviant criminal behavior. What happened at Aberdeen, (if you were listening to folks like Rep. Bartlett and Senators Byrd and Coates) was a predictable outcome of training military women and men together. Basic instincts rule! Men can't control their basic instincts, or submerge the urge to merge, so -- remove the women.

The Federal Advisory Committee on Gender-Integrated Training made more than twenty recommendations to the Secretary of Defense. I agree with the majority of the recommendations. However, the recommendation of training males and females separately at the beginning of their military careers is regressive and does not remedy the problems that led to the formation of this committee.

I served 20 years in the Air Force-- a year of that time spent as one of 14 women on a base of 3,000 men in northern Thailand. While I was harassed on several occasions and assaulted once, none of those incidents occurred during training. Women are harassed throughout their military careers and at all ranks. Sexual harassment and sexual misconduct are about: a) abuse of power; b) putting women in their places in an increasingly competitive military environment; and c) failure of military leadership.

Gender integrated training was endorsed by general officers in the Army, Navy and Air Force at the Senate hearing on this issue last June. Training men and women together enhances military effectiveness. Women are a critical part of our military forces. The Air Force has trained men and women together during basic training for more than 20 years, has the largest percentage of women of all the services (16%) and has the greatest percentage of positions open to both sexes (97%). The Army and Navy noticed a decline in complaints of sexual harassment after they began gender-integrated basic training several years ago.

In February the top enlisted man in the Army went on trial, accused by six women of sexual misconduct. At the Tailhook convention, 140 naval and marine officers assaulted and harassed 83 women. Sexual harassment and misconduct are largely the result of the failure of military leadership to "walk the walk" of "zero tolerance." The military is an autocratic, closed environment that is very capable of enforcing rules and demanding discipline. When the military leadership chooses to lead by example and exercises the will to educate, investigate, adjudicate, and eliminate sexual harassment and misconduct, then we will see a precipitous decline in its incidence.

Over the last 25 years women have increased from 2 percent to 13.5 percent of military personnel. As women have increased our presence and roles in the military, some of the old guard among military and civilian leaders have greatly resisted the further integration of women in the armed forces. To those old guards I say, "So, your mothers, sisters, daughters, granddaughters, and nieces wear combat boots. Get over it! Resistance is futile!"

Connect to http://www.now.org/issues/military to visit our web site's new section on women in the military.


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