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Expert: Punishment in 'pretty' scandal excessive

Dec. 7, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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The Army has set a January 2016 deadline to open all combat jobs to women, but the road to that goal hit a bump in late November, when the woman heading the Army’s study on the impact of gender integration on the service stepped down from that job.

Col. Lynette Arnhart resigned as director of the cultural gender integration study amid a public flap about comments she made in an email concerning the looks of female soldiers. A second officer, Col. Christian Kubik, public affairs officer for Training and Doctrine Command, was suspended pending an investigation into the incident. An Army spokesman said Arnhart had stepped down “to protect the integrity of the ongoing work on gender integration in the Army.”

However, one expert said the resignation of Arnhart and suspension of Kubik is a misstep on the Army’s part.

“The response seems excessive and has had a chilling effect on anyone who might want to even weigh in on the topic of combat integration,” said Col. Ellen Haring, project director for the Combat Integration Initiative at the Women in International Security think tank, “All aspects of integration should be open for discussion, and no one should be afraid to talk about the best ways to make it work, even if some of the ideas are misguided.” Haring, who is in the Reserve, works with WIIS in a civilian capacity.

Arnhart set off a firestorm after Politico reported that in the email sent to Kubik , Arnhart said “pretty women are perceived as having used their looks to get ahead” and “ugly women are perceived as competent,” and suggested that the Army should use “average-looking” women in its communications.

Haring is one of two women who sued the Pentagon and the Army in May 2012 to eliminate the ground combat restrictions for women. She and her fellow plaintiff, Command Sgt. Maj. Jane Baldwin, dropped the lawsuit Nov. 4, but have the option of reinstating it if the Pentagon does not follow through on its plan to open all jobs to women.

Haring is part of the WIIS working group that analyzes how the services are proceeding to integrate women into combat jobs by the 2016 deadline.

Haring said Nov. 26 that Arnhart’s email started a conversation about some of the challenges women face in the military.

“I’m glad this topic has been raised,” Haring said. “Any time that you get something like this into the public sphere and it begins to be debated, then it causes people to think more deeply about it.”

But Haring said Arnhart’s resignation is not the Army’s only problem as it moves to integrate women.

In October, TRADOC sent a survey to infantrymen as part of the study, asking how they would feel if they had to work with women. Haring, who viewed the survey, called it problematic.

She said physical standards asked about in the survey are not required of infantrymen. The survey, which Army Times viewed, also asked infantrymen for their opinions on whether women would harm unit morale and cohesion.

“We have years now of women being in military units and seeing that there is no negative impact on cohesion, so why do we continue to revisit that?” Haring said. “It’s almost like prepping somebody to expect a negative impact, and that is a bad way to set the stage for introducing women to their units.”

As of press time, TRADOC did not return a call seeking comment on how the survey was formulated.

Haring said she is encouraged by some of the Army’s gender integration efforts, but thinks Ranger school should have been opened by now. Other efforts that she said would help with gender integration include:

■More senior Army leaders talking about and endorsing inclusion of women into combat arms.

■More training and awareness campaigns about gender integration in the combat arms units.

Meanwhile, Arnhart will continue her work as deputy director and senior military analyst at TRADOC’s Analysis Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., the Army confirmed. Lt. Col. Blair Williams replaced Arnhart, said George Wright, an Army spokesman. TRADOC did not respond to an interview request with Arnhart as of press time.

Kubik is filling other duties at TRADOC pending an investigation into the incident, said Maj. Robert Hoover, a TRADOC spokesman. Lt. Col. Richard Stebbins is the interim PAO.

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