Army to continue to bar women from 3 combat branches


WASHINGTON -- The Army is planning to open to women more than 32,000 combat positions that are now closed to them, but strong protests from senior generals forced the civilian Army secretary to retreat from a much more ambitious plan.

If approved by Defense Secretary William J. Perry, the plan would effectively block women from advancing along the three main routes to the Army's senior leadership: armor, infantry and field artillery.

"What this basically says is that people who will make up the future leadership of the Army will be all guys," said one senior male officer.

The new plan will allow women into some units that were previously reserved for men, but will keep them in rear headquarters in many units and restrict their ability to compete for assignments that are necessary to rise to the Army's top ranks.

Army Secretary Togo D. West Jr. and Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, the Army chief of staff, clashed last month over how widely to expand opportunities for women on the battlefield.

Mr. West wanted to open virtually all positions not considered to involve direct combat, like the infantry, armor and field artillery.

Under Mr. West's original plan positions would have been opened in units such as the helicopter groups that lift special operations troops into combat. But many generals argued that women were not physically fit for such units and would cause morale problems.

Under the compromise plan, women will be assigned to air defense artillery battalions, helicopters that fly cover for tanks, and battalion headquarters of combat engineers and special operations forces, Army officials said.

Most jobs in the Navy and Air Force are now open to women, although it could take several years for women to gain the experience and qualifications to fill many of them. The Marine Corps, which has only about 4 percent women, plans to open 33 previously closed fields. But the Marines, like the Army, will continue to keep women out of infantry, armor and field artillery units.

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