Ernst worries White House rushing to allow women in combat

Source: Washington Examiner

By Jacqueline Klimas

The Senate's only female combat veteran said on Thursday that she believes the administration is rushing to open all combat positions to women, a move that could actually harm female troops in the long run.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, stressed that the implementation needs to be done deliberately and methodically to ensure any issues that arise can be dealt with effectively.

"The original date that was set was to have this implemented by the first of April. That's very hasty," Ernst told a small group of reporters in her Capitol Hill office. "So it needs to be methodical, and I do think that we would be able to start implementing later this year, but there are a lot of issues that really need to be thoroughly discussed."

Ernst stressed that women are capable of serving in combat and deserve the opportunity to compete with men for the military's jobs on the front lines. But she said the most important thing now is how the military moves forward in implementing the opening of these positions.

One of her biggest concerns is that the military's civilian leadership will lower standards to get more women into specialties like the infantry if only a handful of women are able to meet the standards for those positions within a couple of years. Lowering the standards, she said, becomes dangerous in combat specialties where lives are on the line.

Ernst has also traveled the country talking to female Marines, whose major concern was that women would be driven into combat occupational specialties against their will despite the physical qualifications that only a small number of women will likely meet. She also heard fears that women would be passed over for promotions if all female troops are judged against same physical fitness standards as men in annual tests.

Ernst worried that these issues, if not addressed, could in reality make it more difficult for women to serve on the front lines. Lifting the ban hastily or sloppily could end up doing more harm than good, she said.

"It's going to be tough on women and they might have the reverse effect if it's not implemented correctly," she said.

Lifting the ban has also raised another major issue: whether women should have to register for the draft. While any change to who has to register for the selective service would require legislation by Congress, Ernst said the conversation should start at the White House since they are the ones who opened combat to women.

"The administration, because they opened up the gender integration without having plans ready to go and in place, maybe hadn't thought through, OK, how do we deal with the selective service issue now as well," she said. "So I'm waiting to hear what the president has to say on this."

The administration has so far been silent on many of these issues, Ernst said.

"There's a lot of push to have this done, but I haven't heard how they'll address these secondary issues," she said.

The decision to open combat positions to women is just one of several social changes that have rocked the military in recent years, including expanding maternity leave, changing troops' retirement plan, allowing gay service members to serve openly, and an upcoming decision on allowing transgender troops to serve.

Critics are reportedly worried that the changes are just too much too fast, a concern Ernst said she shares.

"I think there's a lot being thrown on our services right now when we're in the midst of downsizing and when we're in the midst of continuing the Global War on Terror," Ernst said. "I think that our services are dealing with a lot right now. This is an additional twist, it is an additional task that they will have to complete."

"And they're up to it. They will be told what to do, and they will salute smartly and execute it. There's no question about that," she continued. "But I do think that there is a lot going on and again we have to move very carefully moving ahead with some of the implementation phases. It's a lot to ask, especially during a time of war."