US Lifestyles: GI Jane and GI Joe don't mix, says Pentagon military inq uiry

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The Independent Online
A high-powered civilian panel commissioned by the Pentagon to consider mixed-sex training in the US armed forces has concluded that the practice has harmed discipline and lowered standards. Mary Dejevsky, in Washington, reports on the reversals of a controversial policy

The panel, set up six months ago amid a flurry of sexual harassment cases in the military, said that initial basic training should be segregated.

It also advised that men and women be housed in separate barracks, not just on separate floors as is standard practice at present.

The 11-member panel, chaired by former Republican Senator, Nancy Kassebaum Baker, interviewed more than 2,000 recruits, drill instructors and supervisors. As well as calling for a return to separate basic training, it proposed the formation of all-women training units.

Accepting criticism voiced by some officers and recruits that mixed training had lowered standards, the panel demanded tougher training and fitness requirements, with "consistent" standards for male and female recruits. There should also be improved instruction on "how males and females should relate to each other professionally", it said, but current "no talk, no touch" guidelines should be abolished. The panel's report also recommended severe punishments for those guilty of making false accusations of sexual harassment or misconduct.

It did not, however, advocate the complete ending of mixed training. Men and women would still spend up to 70 per cent of their time in mixed units, once basic training was complete. Training has been fully mixed in the army and navy for the past four years, and in the air force since the Seventies. Only the Marines stood out against the policy and continues to train male and female recruits separately, a policy which now appears vindicated.

The Defence Secretary, William Cohen, who is a staunch supporter of mixed training in the armed forces, said he was launching a six-month consultation period on the report's findings before making a decision.