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Exodus of Female Recruits Signals Trouble for Military

Defense: Armed forces, increasingly dependent on women, find them leaving at rates much higher than men.

WASHINGTON -- Sylvia Azriel joined the Army this fall with the kind of
enthusiasm the brass loves to see in recruits: She thought the Army was a well-organized, supportive place that would help her "find some purpose in my life."

Before two months of basic training were up, however, the Pensacola, Fla., woman was out the door, acknowledging that she couldn't adjust to military life. "It was totally not what I expected," she said.

With recruiting in a deep slump, the Pentagon is pinning more and more of its hopes on young women like Azriel--without whom, top officials often
say, today's military simply could not function.

Yet year after year, women leave the services at higher rates than men,
driven out by injuries, family considerations, job opportunities and other
causes, including a sense that the military just isn't right for them.
With the services' mounting dependence on women, the early departures signal increasing trouble for the Pentagon. Women now account for 14% of active-duty personnel, up from 10% a decade ago, and they make up 20% of new recruits.

The exodus is particularly unsettling for the Army: A full 47% of its
enlisted women are gone, either by choice or involuntarily, before the end of three years, despite having signed up for terms averaging four years.

The comparable attrition rate for Army men is 28%. Across all the services, 38% of women are out the door within three years, compared with about 33% for men.

These numbers raise uncomfortable questions about whether women are failing to find the kind of personal support or job opportunities they had hoped for in the military.

That conclusion would be a bitter disappointment for the services.
Integrating women has been one of their biggest challenges of the decade and the cause of a series of scandals and political controversies.

Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher (D-Pleasanton), a member of the House Armed
Services personnel subcommittee, calls the departure rate a "dramatic
rejection of the military" that the government urgently needs to
understand. Navy Capt. Barbara Brehm, military representative to an
influential Pentagon advisory committee on women, calls the attrition
rates "simply unacceptable."

The problem has major financial ramifications. The Army, for example, pays about $35,000 to get each new soldier through recruitment and the first stages of training; this month, after the worst recruiting year in two
decades, the service authorized bonuses of as much as $65,000 just for
signing up.

With these issues in mind, the Army this year began what is apparently the first focused study on the attrition of women, and officials expect that
the results may lead to recommendations for lowering the departure rate.
Officially, recruits aren't entitled to leave until the end of their enlistment periods, which are legal commitments. But as a practical matter, an unhappy soldier can often find a way out.

Commanding officers are far more flexible now about departures than they were during the draft era.

Sometimes, rather than have unhappy or maladjusted troops causing problems in the unit, they will approve discharges for psychological or medical reasons.

Soldiers are allowed to leave voluntarily because of pregnancy or
parenthood, to attend school, to study to become officers, or to deal with
a personal hardship.

And if they can't get out any other way, many recruits are willing to take
bad-performance discharges, experts say, because of a general perception that employers don't attach as much significance as they once did to "bad paper" on a resume.

Within the Army, the departure rate is considerably higher for white
women: Statistics show 54% leave before three years are up, compared with 37% of African American women and 43% of Hispanics.

An internal Army analysis notes that white women enter the force with some of the highest test scores and skills. "High aptitude may contribute to attrition, as these soldiers see greater socioeconomic opportunities
outside the military," the analysis says.

In addition, some experts suggest that black women are more likely to have had friends or relatives who have been in the service, and generally have an easier time adjusting to its stresses because they know what to expect.

In separate interviews with a Times reporter, some enlisted women
described entering the military with high hopes, only to reach the
conclusion that they are better suited to the civilian world.

Azriel said she was drawn to the Army by TV advertisements. But she found the rigors of Army life not to her liking and became unmotivated and depressed. Finally, her superiors had her "chaptered" out, which means she was forced to leave. She plans to return to her job as a contract paralegal.

Seaman Tatinyana Pinkney joined the Navy two years ago, passing up three college scholarship offers because she yearned to travel far from her home in Pine Ville, S.C. But after two sea tours, she decided she'd made a mistake.

Pinkney, 20, has decided she wants to return to civilian life and move
back home to take care of her ailing mother. She's planning to marry her
boyfriend, whom she met while in the Navy. Because she's pregnant, she's free to leave with an honorable discharge.

Janice H. Laurence, a psychologist who assisted with research for the
Commission on Military Training and Gender Related Issues, cites a
"disillusionment factor" among some military women.

Problems arising from military travel and dual-career households put women under special pressures, Laurence said. The Pentagon may have to come up with some creative personnel policies to "deal with the family issues," she said.

Some conservative observers have come to different conclusions. They
believe the numbers suggest the services might be better off focusing
their efforts on recruiting men.

"It's quite possible they're just wasting a lot of money," said Anita
Blair, an activist and lawyer who chaired the congressional commission on gender issues in the military.

The services, for their part, have in the last two years been stepping up
efforts to reduce attrition generally.

The Army's training and doctrine command, which oversees early training efforts, has begun half a dozen programs to improve the conditioning, skills and motivation of soldiers who are falling behind.

When asked about attrition among women, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki said the Army is "always concerned about our attrition numbers, and they're never low enough."

Yet he signaled that the service would be willing to go only so far to
reduce them, since it doesn't want to keep people who aren't willing, or
able, to do the job.

"There is a quality factor here, and we have assured ourselves that the
quality of the force will not be degraded," he said.

Army Attrition Rates Year by year, women are leaving the U.S. military services at higher rates than men. Integrating women into the military has been one of the services' biggest challenges of the decade, and today's military cannot function without them, officials say. Gone during first term
The percentage of first-term enlistees who are dropping out or being

White: 54%
Black: 37%
Hispanic: 43%
Asian / Pacific Islander: 33%
American Indian: 35%
Other: 38%
TOTAL: 47%
White: 30%
Black: 27%
Hispanic: 23%
Asian / Pacific Islander: 20%
American Indian: 23%
Other: 23%
TOTAL: 28% Reasons for leaving
Top causes of first-term attrition:
Substandard performance in initial training: 27
Medical condition originating before service began: 20%
Pregnancy: 17%
Physical disability: 6%
Misconduct: 26%
Substandard performance in initial training: 23%
Medical condition originating before service began: 18%
Substandard performance after initial training: 7%
Sources: U.S. Army



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