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Archive for Tuesday, July 20, 1993

WOMEN IN COMBAT ROLES

July 20, 1993

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When Jennifer McHatton was in the fifth grade she decided she wanted to become an Air Force pilot when she grew up.

But McHatton, a cadet in the Air Force Reserve Officers' Training Corps at KU, had to adjust her goals when she learned her less-than-perfect eyesight and the intense competition for pilot jobs would keep her out of the cockpit.

The 22-year-old Topeka senior said she applauds the recent decision to open combat aviation jobs to women. Even though it won't affect her directly, McHatton said she hopes it means attitudes about women are continuing to evolve in the Defense Department and the ROTC.

For the most part, McHatton said, female and male ROTC cadets are treated equally, but there have been a few exceptions.

When she proposed a program on date rape the idea was rejected, McHatton said, because "the male cadets on the senior staff didn't think it was important."

But other female members of campus ROTC units say they have no complaints about their treatment.

"Everyone there is pretty much treated as an equal," said Kim Eichman, a 19-year-old Army ROTC cadet from Monument, Colo. "They treat us the same. I've never had anyone say, 'You can't do this, you're female.' The training is pretty much the same."

"I feel like I'm treated more equally here than in the rest of the university," said Megan Searle, an incoming sophomore and a member of the Air Force ROTC.

Searle and Eichman said they expect ending the combat ban for women will have little effect on their training and careers.

"I'm going into nursing, so I don't really think it's going to do anything to me," said Eichman, who will be a sophomore this fall. "I'm not going into that area. But for the girls that are, it's helping them a lot."

Searle, 19, who hails from Lee's Summit, Mo., plans to become a doctor and doesn't expect any combat assignments.

The women-in-combat issue was not a subject of conversation among ROTC cadets, Searle said.

"I think everyone expected it to happen," she said. "I haven't heard anybody say they don't approve of it. It hasn't been an issue in the corps."

Ending combat restrictions for women will have no effect on how cadets are treated and trained, unit leaders said.

"They have equal opportunity from day one to hold all positions, whether it's corps commander or flight commander," said Col. James Phillips, professor of aerospace studies and detachment commander for the Air Force ROTC unit. "There is no favoritism."

When cadets select a career path, "they choose that on their own," Phillips said. "They know what their interests are and where they're headed. It (ending combat restrictions for women) doesn't affect what we do. Ours is the initial officer training."

"Nothing changes," said Capt. Jim Hough, professor of naval science and commander of the Navy ROTC unit. "What we've been doing for so many years is training midshipmen. The training has been producing naval officers capable of entering a wide range of fields."

"We give everyone exactly the same training," said Capt. Clay Barker, recruitment officer of the Army ROTC battalion. "The only thing that might change is when we talk about career plans with the juniors. Otherwise, everyone does exactly the same things."

Women comprise about 40 percent of the 50-student Air Force ROTC unit, Phillips said.

"When I got here in June 1990 it was almost double in size," he said. "All the corps took a drop after (Operation) Desert Storm."

About 120 students are in the Navy ROTC's midshipman battalion, Hough said, but only four are women.

"It's not nearly as high a percentage as we would like," he said. "We would like it to be higher, just to have a good mix. But it's a matter of getting folks to select Kansas University."

The Army ROTC battalion has about 120 students from area colleges and universities, including KU, Washburn University and Baker University, said Capt. Clay Barker, who heads up recruiting and is the scholarship administrator for northeast Kansas.

About 15 percent of the Army ROTC cadets at KU are women, Barker said.

The female cadets "do real well," he said. "The class that just graduated, there were four distinguished military honor graduates, and three were women."

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