The Integration – Women Entering the line Army

The Integration—Women Entering the line Army

Another in a series by Tom Rozman

The Army captain had just assumed duties as the operations, plans, training and curriculum officer in a what was then termed “instructor group” on a U. S. university campus participating in the Army’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program. These programs had 19th Century roots that traced back to the establishment of pre-Civil War state military academies like Virginia Military Institute, the Citadel, even the University of Alabama in its initial ante bellum formation and private institutions like Norwich University in Vermont.

But its most significant antecedent was the founding of the Morrill Act Land Grant colleges, later universities, in each state with the passing of the act in 1863 as a direct Congressional response to the tragic effects of the large shortfall in available trained officers for the emergency of the Civil War.  Ultimately, these early initiatives and others came together in the post WW I National Defense Acts by Congress that created the Army Reserve in addition to the National Guard, a federal rather than state based reserve, and the Reserve Officer Training Corps, the former creating a federal administrative entity to which reserve officers commissioned from ROTC could be assigned as a pool of trained officers in a mobilization—previously, graduates of the predecessor programs could only obtain commissioned status in the two standing legal operational military organizations in the country, the Regular Army and the various state and territorial standing militias later National Guard establishments by application, examination and available vacancies .

In the event of the Civil War, this existing system of application to vacancies in the Regular Army and Militia/National Guard had proved greatly inadequate against expanded competent officer needs in a major mobilization, even using all experienced “volunteer officers” from the expanded army of the Mexican War and ex-officers of foreign armies that had immigrated to the United States.  The pre-and post WW I legislative and administrative initiatives had  created an increasingly improved system of building and sustaining an officer reserve of competence against potential mobilizations requirements.

The ever developing system was now engaged in a further major evolution—the integration of women into the regular and reserve officer corps.  Though the commissioning of women had antecedents in the Army in ancillary forms back to WW I and in a large scale form with the creation and expansion of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) officer corps during WW II, the mission of this establishment remained auxiliary to the line and support organizations of the Army.  In 1976 major changes were enacted with authorization of the entry of women into the Military Academy and ROTC cadet corps and the disbandment of the WAC, WAC officers at the time being commissioned from the officer candidate program, and the reassignment of these women officers to approved Army support branches.  Restrictions remained in the assignment of women to what were designated as combat arms, or arms that could be expected to engage in direct combat.

Though law and regulation specified how this significant integration of the female gender into what had been an exclusively male establishment were to proceed, many adventures lay ahead for the participants at all levels in sorting through the integration.  Though operational effectiveness to mission of standing units ostensibly had priority, the process of achieving behavior norms with the genders as they were integrated in the force that would not detract from effectiveness and effective mission discipline within that priority would be a journey—one that would claim casualties along the way toward achieving the objective.

The captain, in his new role was directly confronted with the challenges of this great social initiative toward greater social equality of the genders at the micro level where the rubber would be meeting the road.  Though various literature, guidelines and materials had been developed and made available—much of this material was not especially useful for the task of training the genders in an integrated and competitive format in a positive, constructive and professional manner that avoided the likely and not yet expected pitfalls that would confront or develop.  He had been a reservist enlisted man and University ROTC cadet, Military Academy cadet, was a graduate of the Parachute and Ranger Schools, and was a line infantry officer in battalions at two major Continental United States (CONUS) installations in the U.S. Southwest and Southeast and in Korea.  He had patrolled on bald ridges in Korea with his platoon where when nature called the soldier had little recourse than to perform nature’s business in the open.  As well, he had served on line battalion, brigade and division staffs.

He also had a good handle on the environments and conditions prevailing in both locations.  He had a sense of the challenges that may be ahead.  He had been in a combat infantry brigade when the WAC was disbanded and its officers distributed to other branches of the officer corps.  The brigade was assigned several officers from this initiative, one a very attractive blonde Military Intelligence Corps officer, a 1st lieutenant.  She was posted as the assistant brigade intelligence officer.  The brigade was a separate combat brigade in the process of converting to a separate mechanized infantry brigade to support its new mission as the XVIIIth Airborne Corps’ heavy force capability.

The female lieutenant by all accounts was a competent officer and carried herself with dignity and self-respect and always presented well as a soldier.  That said, a relationship of some sort apparently developed with the brigade executive officer, a bachelor and lieutenant colonel.  The details of this development were not known but the perceptions, under the circumstances, sometimes took less than desirable form.  Eventually, the situation settled down, the lieutenant dating and eventually marrying a captain in the armored battalion and soon after being promoted to captain.  Generally, this early phase of the integration of women seemed to move along positively, but the captain noted the negative effects of perception and innuendo that could occur.

At this point, the culture of the male Army had only experienced women in uniform in official capacity in vicinity of troops as WAC officers and soldiers where these personnel were assigned and authorized, Army Nurse Corps officers at Army hospitals and other medical units authorized these officers and uniformed Red Cross employees overseas.  Whatever norms of behavior between the two sexes that existed in a uniformed capacity derived from these limited interfaces.  Forming a more expanded relational professional culture between the sexes, a positive one of mutual respect, would be the work of the following several decades.

The captain had been reassigned on completion of his tour with the brigade to the Infantry Officer Advanced Course at the Infantry School as a student, one of several hundred male officers in his class.  On graduation six months later he was selected and assigned by Department of the Army as a graduate school student in a University MBA program.  The Army’s plan was that on achieving the degree requirement and baseline academic requirement to exercise assistant professor and instructor privileges at the university, he would on completion of his degree and approval of the university’s Academic Affairs Subcommittee as an instructor, be assigned to the ROTC Instructor Group on the campus.

With orders and assignment assurances in hand and no government quarters available in close proximity to the campus, the captain purchased a home in the immediate area.  Family considerations further drove this decision to create the best school opportunity for his two school age children with a third that would reach early school age during the assignment.

Returning from class late one afternoon at the end of his first six months on campus, the captain received a call from the Military Personnel Center in Washington.  The caller shared information that a situation had developed in another instructor group at a prestigious institution in the state, important to the Army’s officer procurement, about an hour and a half drive over the mountains to the east.  Apparently several officers had developed some form of relationship with a female employee of the instructor group that had made it necessary to reassign several officers to include the professor of military science, the lieutenant colonel commanding the group.

The purpose of the call was to determine if the captain would consider relocation on completion of his graduate studies to that detachment in an effort to rebuild the instructor group.  The captain stated that he had purchased a home and that a relocation would create a severe financial burden on his family.  He requested that if possible he be allowed to continue with the original assignment.  The Personnel Center agreed to this request—but the untoward development in this sister instructor group raised concerns in the captain’s mind about the challenges that may be ahead in the integration of women into the line Army.  Strict adherence to the best standards of behavior were clearly critical to avoid major unit dysfunction as had occurred in this unit.

The captain determined that he wanted to get back to troops as soon as possible.  He was allowed 18 months to complete his graduate degree with an option to extend for 6 additional months.  He chose instead to validate his prerequisite courses and take a full semester load through the summer term, completing three full semesters in effect and his degree requirements within 12 months.  Consequently he joined the instructor group 6 months early in January and was initially assigned as the groups logistics officer and Military Science I (MS I or first year cadets) instructor teaching a history course.

That summer as an Airborne Ranger Infantry Officer, he would deploy for two months to an Army post 700 miles south that hosted the advanced camp for the then 1st ROTC Region that was comprised of all of the schools on the US East Coast.  He was assigned to the Patrolling Committee.  He would perform this temporary duty for the next two summers as well, in the third summer as the committee operations officer on promotion to major.  The camp was a huge undertaking, standing up for two months each summer a 4,500 brigade size training unit that comprehensively trained and evaluated over 4,000 advanced Course ROTC MS III cadets.  Successful completion of this camp by an MS III cadet was a requirement for commissioning after completion of the MS IV year.  It could not be waived.

Cadet companies of 200 cadets formed within the first day of the camp.  Each 50 cadet platoon was assigned a tactical officer and tactical non-commissioned officer (NCO)—usually a captain and a sergeant first class.  The latter were drawn from various instructor groups in the region as were the training committee staffs.  That first summer a situation developed where a from another school captain tactical officer was determined to be having a relationship with a cadet from his campus.  This officer was dismissed from the camp with presumably negative administrative and disciplinary procedures that followed.  The captain took note.

The camp proceeded very well but the sensitivity to possible abuses by cadre of their situation with the female cadets by the chain of command and others was palpable.  The sense was by male cadre to be very careful and correct—to even avoid situations that could create the perception of inappropriate behavior.

On return to campus, the captain transitioned over the next two months to duties as the operations officer during.  The cadet battalion that had been rebuilding after great reductions during the anti-war period on campus had been increasing in strength to the point that it was being reorganized into four companies, each supporting a specific mission critical to the on campus training mission.  In addition to instructor and group staff duties, each officer and NCO of the group staff received a tactical assignment to one of the cadet companies to mentor the cadet chain of command in executing the company’s training mission.  The captain assumed the tactical assignment of Cadet Company D, the cadet ranger company.

The captain determined from a growing personal study and sense of developments across the region regarding the integration of women that group training policies would serve the mission best if Army training and mission standards were adhered to.  Women cadets would be treated as coequal soldiers and required to perform to the Army’s standards.  Any misconduct by cadre or cadet regarding a female cadet would not be tolerated.  Women students who were qualified would be welcomed and encouraged to participate in the program.

The results of this policy over the next three years were telling.  No incidents of misbehavior developed.  Women became a solid and high performing 20% of the cadet corps.  They did extremely well at advanced camp every summer during the period of the captain’s involvement, none failing the camp and a number excelling.  Women cadets occupied significant positions of leadership, this included the most senior positions in the cadet battalion performing comparably to their male counterparts.  The policy applied treated the women cadets as coequal comrades and they responded well and performed well—they met and exceeded the standards defined by the Army at the time.

But, the women were held to the Army’s standard.  There were women cadets who chose not to continue with the program.  However, in the event those who chose to take the program on performed very well.

From this experience the captain determined that the approach taken worked well.  Women had clearly demonstrated they could meet and exceed standards defined by the Army and perform well to those standards.  They had indicated the ability to function as effective team members who performed well, were reliable and when in leadership roles, lead effectively.  The captain would apply the lessons he had learned successfully at the staff college, in later troop assignments and at division and on higher Army staffs.  He would also apply the lessons successfully over a lengthy following civilian public sector career—and in reverse at one point while reporting successfully to a civilian female operations director for over two years.