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Military Discipline

Over the past two decades increasing numbers of American women have chosen a career in the military. Women now make up 14 percent of active-duty personnel, up from 1.6 percent 25 years ago.

There can be no rolling back of that trend. But adjusting to the reality of more women in the ranks is an ongoing, top-priority task for the Pentagon and the country. Its urgency is only underlined by the sexual harassment cases that have beset the military in recent years.

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Part of this task - and not the hardest part - is the reorganization undertaken by Defense Secretary William Cohen, using recommendations from a commission on gender-integrated training headed by former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum Baker.

Announcing new policies this week, Mr. Cohen settled on a middle ground. He called for more female recruiters and trainers, and for greater separation and privacy in living quarters. He dropped the commission's recommendation to put men and women in separate platoon-sized units for the rigors of basic training.

Pragmatically, this makes sense. Close proximity of men and women in barracks can put young recruits, and their leaders, under counterproductive strains. But to extend the separateness down to the small units at the heart of training would be a virtual admission that gender-integration doesn't work.

Cohen's position, and that of most of the service chiefs (the Marine Corps excepted) is that integrated training has to be made to work, and strong leadership is the key ingredient. That ingredient is called into question when those leaders closest to enlisted men and women are put in the dock for sexual harassment.

The case of Sgt. Maj. Gene McKinney ended with acquittal on all charges related to sexual harassment. But the trial directed fresh attention to how men and women relate in the rank-conscious services.

In the increasingly gender-mixed military, military discipline has to include the inner discipline of accepting comrades of the opposite sex as fellow soldiers, part of the team - period. That change of attitude is the harder, but indispensable, part of the adjustment task mentioned above.

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