Legislation that would prevent the assignment of both military parents of young children to the Persian Gulf war is meeting resistance both in Congress and the Defense Department.
Lawmakers and Pentagon officials alike argued Tuesday against a reversal of policy, saying that military personnel accepted the possibility of deployment to a combat zone when they signed up for the all-volunteer force.Concerns were also raised about creating two classes within the military - personnel who could be deployed and those who could not. Women, who are not assigned combat roles under current rules, would suffer added discrimination, Pentagon officials contended.
"This legislation threatens to turn back the clock to the time when marriage and motherhood caused a discharge or discrimination in assignment," said Christopher Jehn, assistant secretary of defense for force management and personnel.
The Defense Department says that as of last week, 16,337 sole-custody single parents and 1,231 couples with children were among the more than 500,000 U.S. troops deployed in Operation Desert Storm.
Among the bills reviewed by the House Armed Services personnel subcommittee at a hearing was a measure sponsored by Rep. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., that would require the military to decide in time of war whether to send either a mother or father of children under age 18 to a combat zone.
Rep. Clay Shaw Jr., R-Fla., is proposing that mothers of children under 6 months old not be assigned to an area subject to hostile fire.
Rep. Jill Long, D-Ind., has introduced a bill that asks the military to consider deploying the sole, or at least one parent, to an area in which child care facilities are available.
The images of both parents leaving small children for service in the gulf prompted the introduction of numerous bills.
Defense Secretary Dick Cheney reiterated his opposition to reversing the Pentagon policy allowing the assignment of both parents of young children to the war zone.
"What we need from a military standpoint is the ability to deploy units, and we would have to begin discriminating against people based upon whether or not they have dependents of a certain age," Cheney told reporters after testifying before another House committee.