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Conference says progress slow for military women

April 04, 1997

By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Staff Writer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Although women are slowly taking their place in the military, the main setback has been sexual harassment, according to a speaker who was at Wilson College as part of a seminar Friday on Women in the Armed Forces.

The Army is currently investigating more than 300 complaints of sexual harassment, said Larry Shillock, assistant professor at Wilson who spoke on the discipline and the psychology of harassment.

Shillock said basic training is harder on women than on men and not because of physical difficulties. Drill instructors require the same from men and women, but men and women react differently to the ordeals, Shillock said.

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Basic training instills pride in women but it leaves them with a corresponding loss of their femininity, he said. "They become non-women and non-men in a male dominated institution," he said.

Shillock said the Army has to train its drill instructors better if it wants to control sexual harassment.

He also said the Army has improved on the issue of sexual harassment. "There would be 3,000 complaints instead of 300" without the Army's progress, Shillock said.

The day-long conference was co-sponsored by the Pennsylvania Department of Reserve Officers Association, part of a 100,000-member national organization dedicated to supporting the nation's military policies.

Speakers included Brig. Gen. John E. McAllister, chairman of the United States Army Reserve, Major Gen. Herbert Koger Jr., national president of the Reserve Officers Association, and Cheryl P. Brown, appointed by President Bill Clinton as executive director of the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve.

Judith Hicks Stiehm, visiting professor at the Peacekeeping Institute of the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., said progress for women in the military hasn't come quickly or easily since the days of Molly Pitcher, the Revolutionary War heroine.

In World War II, less than 2 percent of the 16 million Americans in uniform were women, said Stiehm, author of the book, "It's Our Military Too!" The law limiting the number of women in the military to 2 percent did not change until 1968, she said.

Military rules also stopped a woman from achieving a permanent rank above lieutenant colonel until 1967, she said. The first woman promoted to general did not attain the rank until 1970, Stiehm said.

Even today, there are 950 flag officers in the Army, but only 11 are women, she said.

Also, it wasn't until a landmark Supreme Court case in 1973 that dependents of women in the military were allowed to have the same benefits as those of men, Stiehm said. Until 1975, a woman's military career ended if she became pregnant.

More than 41,000 women served in the Gulf War, or about 7 percent of all U.S. service personnel engaged in that conflict, Stiehm said. Of them, five were killed and two were prisoners of war.

The Navy and Air Force are moving faster toward equality for women than the Army or Marine Corps, Stiehm said. "Women can serve in combat planes and ships," she said.

The other two services are slow to accepting women in combat, she said.

More than half of the enlisted women in the military now have non-traditional jobs, a change from when most women in the military were relegated to administrative or medical positions, she said.

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