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MONDAY, MAY 23, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Congress should butt out of women-in-combat issue

The Federal Communications Commission moved fast Thursday to solve a crisis that was real, not a product of its imagination.

Cheryl Waller of Deltona, Fla., told commissioners that her infant daughter died after she could not reach an emergency dispatcher by dialing 911 on an Internet telephone.

The FCC ordered Internet phone companies to make emergency phone service reliable. It gave them a 120-day deadline — "seven days longer than my daughter lived," the distraught mother noted.

It was an example of Washington at its best, making swift and prudent use of its authority to fill a leadership vacuum. But that's not what we are seeing in Congress on an entirely different issue: women in military combat.

Against the wishes of the armed forces' professional leadership, the House Armed Services Committee last week decided to write into law the Defense Department policy now in place against women serving in combat. If the policy becomes law, Congress will have to approve any changes in it.

Women can't serve in direct ground combat units below the brigade level, although they can be in forward support companies that provide logistics and other services to combat soldiers.

Female service members are doing a fine job in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the front lines are ill-defined, and some women have come under fire — Pfc. Jessica Lynch and other members of her maintenance company, to cite one famous example.

The military must have flexibility to use soldiers where they're needed, and women deserve the opportunity to serve where they're qualified and can earn promotions. The armed services need more volunteer recruits. Congress' meddling would advance none of these goals.

Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the Armed Services Committee's top Democrat, perfectly described what's happening.

"There seems to be a solution," he said, "in search of a problem."

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