Defense Secretary William Cohen told the Army, Navy and Air Force Monday they could continue to mix the sexes in basic training but should ensure they are housed in "separate areas, if not separate buildings."
He also told the three branches to increase supervision for the trainees in their first weeks in the services and toughen their physical training."They don't have to sleep together," he told a Pentagon press conference. The trainees share the same buildings now but generally are assigned to separate floors.
Cohen also asked the services to increase the number of female recruiters and female trainers and put more emphasis on "core military values" during basic training.
In December, a blue-ribbon panel headed by former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum Baker, R-Kan. recommended separate housing and, for the most part, separate training for men and women. Only the Marine Corps separates its trainees during basic training.
In draft reports submitted last week to Cohen, the Army, Navy and Air Force rejected building separate housing units. Most women in basic training live on the top floors of buildings and their male colleagues are housed in separate floors below.
Cohen said he wants to see the system improved. "I want to see . . . barriers . . . that cannot be transgressed," he said, adding that he knew of instances where doors had been removed between male and female sleeping quarters.
At the press conference, the secretary said he was still evaluating the question of mixed training but had not requested any changes for now.
He said the services have agreed to implement many other recommendations made by the Kassebaum Baker panel, such as those involving putting more emphasis on patriotism and tougher training standards.
Cohen insisted the steps "are not a rollback" for females in the military, butwould only help ensure their personal privacy.
Cohen said he's asked the services to report back to him within 30 days on how they will implement his directives.
Cohen "directed the services to ensure that male and female basic trainees live in separate areas, if not separate buildings," a statement released at the Pentagon said. "The goal is a basic training system which provides gender privacy and dignity in safe, secure living conditions."
The three services argued that keeping men and women apart for the first six weeks of training would not prepare them for the real world of the military, where women are now on warships and flying combat aircraft. Some 14 percent of the military is female.
Although women are eligible to fly in combat aircraft for the Air Force and the Navy, and on combat helicopters in the Army, the services still bar women from duties in those units that are designed to seek out and engage the enemy in close combat, such as in the infantry, tank units or special operations forces.