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Pentagon undeterred by sex scandals; policy on women proceeds

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**FILE** Veterans Kori Cioca (left), 25, of Wilmington, Ohio, and Panayiota Bertzikis, 29, of Somerville, Mass., who were assaulted and raped while serving in the U.S. Coast Guard, meet at their attorney’s office in Washington on Feb. 13, 2011. They are plaintiffs among about a dozen women and at least one man, who are suing Pentagon officials, seeking change in the military’s handling of rape, and sexual assault cases. (Associated Press)

The Pentagon is pushing ahead with its campaign to move women closer to the battlefield, despite a series of sex scandals involving senior officers and a report showing an increase in sexual assaults among the troops.

At the dawn of the all-volunteer military force in 1973, women accounted for less than 3 percent of active-duty and reserve members. Today, 310,000 women make up about 15 percent of the force. In and around the Afghanistan War are nearly 17,000 women in uniform.

With the influx has come increasingly close contact between men and women — and a sharp rise in sexual misconduct. Militarywide, sexual assaults are up 22 percent since 2007, according to a Pentagon report.

“The problem is getting worse. It’s not getting better,” said Elaine Donnelly, who heads the Center for Military Readiness. “Part of the reason is people don’t want to admit what everyone knows to be true.

“Men and women are human beings. They react to each other. The do things they are not proud of. Rank has nothing to do with it. It’s not solely a gender issue. Both sexes are involved. All ranks.”

In recent months, an Army general in Afghanistan was accused of forcing a female captain to engage in sex acts, and the Navy has fired commanding officers for sexual misconduct.

Even four-star officers are not immune. Marine Gen. John Allen, commander of all NATO forces in Afghanistan, is under a Pentagon investigation for an exchange of flirtatious emails with a married Florida socialite.

The Iraq and Afghanistan wars have pushed the sexes closer together than ever before in shared living quarters in isolated bases, as well as the close quarters of Navy ships and, now, submarines.

A Department of Veterans Affairs research panel survey found that about half of all women sent to Iraq and Afghanistan say they were sexually harassed, and 1 in 4 say they were sexually assaulted. The findings were based on surveys mailed to 1,100 women who had served in or near the two war zones, according to USA Today.

Meanwhile, most recruits begin military life in sex-integrated barracks.

“The only thing the military can do is try to encourage discipline instead of indiscipline, and try to avoid the kind of hazardous situations that just make it worse,” Mrs. Donnelly said.

One of the trends Mrs. Donnelly said is making things worse is the Army’s drive to put women closer to combat and, perhaps one day, in direct land combat.

Early last year, the Army began opening 14,000 combat support jobs below the brigade level, down to smaller units close to front lines.

In a more revolutionary move, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, Army chief of staff, ordered a study to learn whether women can be assigned to direct land combat occupations as infantry and armor soldiers.

The Air Force and Navy removed most combat barriers in the 1990s. Since then, it has ballyhooed the methodical promotions of female generals and admirals to key commands.

Growing pains persist

The Army suffered through its worst known sex scandal in 1996 when 12 officers and enlisted leaders were charged with sexually abusing female trainees at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.

Sixteen years later, the Air Force discovered the same type of widespread sexual abuse at Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio. At Lackland, all enlisted recruits undergo an 8?-week boot camp under the wing of a mostly male staff.

More than 30 female trainees complained of sexual harassment, and even in-barracks rapes, by instructors. The Air Force fired scores of instructors.

The scandal involving former Gen. David H. Petraeus, who formed a close relationship with his biographer in Afghanistan while in Army uniform and then began an extramarital affair while CIA director, has garnered the most attention.

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