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Marines, Army resist women in combat jobs

A Clinton administration initiative to expand combat assignments for women in uniform is meeting stiff resistance from the Army and Marine Corps, elements of which are backing a proposal that in some cases would exclude women from jobs in which they now serve.

On Tuesday, an internal working group of military officers completed a draft policy document that would bar assignment of women to units that "co-locate" with ground combat units, according to a copy obtained by the Washington Post.

Moreover, the document said, "other units, positions or billets will be closed to women when the probability of their engaging in direct combat on the ground is equal to or greater than that of closed units that engage in direct combat on the ground."

A senior military officer who has read the proposal described it as a potentially "catastrophic" setback for women seeking wider career opportunities in the military. During the 1991 Persian Gulf war, women served throughout the combat theater, working as truck drivers, medics, helicopter pilots and in other support roles that blurred the line between combat and non-combat jobs.

Pentagon officials emphasized the proposal is still in draft form and likely will be revised before being forwarded to Defense Secretary Les Aspin. Nevertheless, it appears to conflict with guidance from Aspin, who announced on April 28 he was lifting the prohibition on women in combat aircraft.

The services have responded with varying degrees of enthusiasm. The Navy and Air Force have committed to opening virtually all major aviation combat jobs to women.

The Army, on the other hand, has taken a more selective approach, allowing women to fly attack and scout helicopters in aviation brigades but not in air cavalry or Special Operations units.