COMMONWEALnWomen in Armsnby Brian MitchellnWhat Happened in PanamanLies can’t live forever, as we havenseen recently in Eastern Europe.nOne result of the American invasion ofnPanama may be that, despite the bestnefforts of the United States Army,nAmericans will finally learn the truthnabout women in the military.nIt didn’t take long for the truth toncome out of Panama, First we heardnthat a female officer. Army CaptainnLinda Bray, had led a platoon of MP’sn(military policepeople) in an attacknagainst a “heavily defended” attack-dognkennel. Three Panamanian soldiersnwere killed in a three-hour firefight thatnclimaxed with a daring assault by Braynherself, who — said one press report—ncrashed her jeep through the gates ofnthe kennel while blazing away with hernmachine gun. One of Bray’s femalensoldiers even “single-handedly capturednan enemy prisoner.”nA week later, we heard another story.nUnnamed Army officers were quotednsaying the original report of Bray’snheroics was “grossly exaggerated.” Thenkennel was lightly held, the firefightnlasted only ten minutes, and there wasn54/CHRONICLESnVITAL SIGNSnno one killed or injured. Bray was notnpresent during the firefight but was anhalf-mile away at her command post.nAfter arriving at the scene, she did notncrash through the gate in her jeep; shenstood aside while her driver used thenjeep to force the gate open. The lonenPanamanian captured was a harmlessnfellow who showed up after the fight toncheck on the dogs. The real enemy gotnaway.nThere is no denying that everythingncould have happened the way the firstnreport said it did. Nothing in the firstnreport is beyond belief But neither isnthere any doubt that the handling of thenepisode by the press and the Army wasntypical of the way the issue of women innthe military has been handled for somentime now.nThe present role of women in ournmilitary was built upon exaggerationnand deceit. The good that militarynwomen do is always exaggerated, whilenthe problems they cause are swept undernthe rug. The press tends to limit itsncoverage of the issue to profiles ofnindividual servicewomen who are supposednto be able to perform their jobs asnwell as any man. Rarely is there anynattempt to go beyond these images ofnsuccess to discuss such complex problemsnas pregnancy, single-parenthood,nand fraternization. When such problemsnare mentioned at all, they areninvariably blamed on the services. Ifnonly the services provided more childncare, if only they added sex education tonthe training schedule, if only local commandersndemonstrated a little’ morenleadership, such problems would gonaway. Or so some would have us believe.nWithout doubt, media coverage ofnwomen in the military has been bothnshallow and heavily slanted in favor of anwider military role for women, but itnwould be wrong to blame the pressnalone for the distortions foisted uponnthe American public. The greater sharenof blame should go to the military,nwhich has been feeding the press halftruthsnand outright lies for many yearsnnow.nnnPanama also gave us a good examplenof the military’s in-house deceitfulnessnon the subject of women. Two weeksnafter we learned the truth about CaptainnBray, CBS News reported that twonfemale truck drivers stood accused ofncowardice in the face of the enemy forntearfully refusing to drive a company ofnRangers to the site of the fiercest fighting.nThe accusation was leveled by thencommander of an infantry battalion thenwomen were supporting, but nothingnwas done about it until the story madenthe evening news. Only then did thenArmy in Panama conduct a hasty investigation,nwhich soldiers in Panama saidnwas intended to protect the womennrather than to find the facts.nJust two days after the investigationnbegan, and before it was completed,nthe Army’s public affairs office in thenPentagon publicly absolved the womennof any fault. An Army colonel told USAnToday the women had been driving fornnine hours and had asked to be relievednbecause they were tired and fearednthey might endanger the lives of theirnpassengers. “Does that indicate cowardice?nI don’t think so,” he was quotednas saying, “They were drivingnthrough fire all night long. . . .nThere’s no indication we had anythingnother than two exhausted soldiers.”nThe Washington Post quoted anothernspokesman saying the women “performednsuperbly.”nNone of the spokesmen denied thenwomen had cried before being relievednof their duties, a point not lost on theneditors of the New Republic, whoncalled the Army’s praise of the womenn”ludicrous and patronizing.” The editorsnof other publications were lessncritical, however. Most simply reportednthe Army’s excuses on behalf of thenwomen and left it at that. It was annisolated incident, “just two women outnof how many others,” said a reporternfor the independent newspaper ArmynTimes, explaining why his paper didnnot pursue the matter even after receivingnadditional details of the incidentnthat contradicted statements bynthe Army.n