Wednesday, May 21, 2014

MN DFL muffs chance to support women in the military

One of the more overlooked items in the bonding bill was the fact that the Minnesota DFL completely whiffed on a chance to strongly support women in the military.

Well over a year ago, the Pentagon lifted restrictions on female personnel serving in combat units.  Though I didn't support the change, the Minnesota National Guard did, quite emphatically.  Both the StarTrib and MPR reported on the MN Guard being part of the pilot program to integrate women into infantry units. But integration into a unit doesn't just mean sensitivity training-it also means upgrading National Guard armories with basic amenities like separate female showers.  Which is exactly why the MN National Guard asked the legislature for $1.38 million for upgrades to the Owatonna armory, home to one of the state's two infantry units.  The most significant change would have been the installation of separate female shower and locker room areas, a key feature that would help put female soldiers on par with their male counterparts.  Currently, the Guard unit has to post hours on the single shower area to restrict male and female personnel, a situation that exacerbates the integration issue.

But when the full bonding bill was finally released from the DFL House and DFL Senate, funding for the Owatonna armory upgrade was mysteriously absent.  In fact, the DFL Senator from Owatonna, Vicki Jensen, couldn't even explain why, how or when the funding was removed.  Instead, a 2 million dollar general appropriation was given to a military 'asset preservation fund', that may or may not choose to spend the money on the Owatonna armory.  Other National Guard facilities had requested money in the bonding bill, so it is by no means decided about who will get to spend the allocated money.

The integration of women into the combat arms was a folly, in my opinion.  But soldiers follow orders, and once the die was cast, out elected leaders should have given every ounce of their support to the brave female soldiers who will try to navigate what was an all male world up until last year.  The MN DFL, with control of the Legislature and the Governor's office, had a perfect chance to support the very women they profess to support so vocally.  Instead, they left the decision up to the brass in the MN National Guard, who are most likely to be older white males. 

Hello, hypocrisy.

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