RICHMOND, Va. Five female Naval Academy graduates criticized Democratic Senate candidate Jim Webb, a decorated veteran and former secretary of the Navy, for a 1979 magazine article in which he objected to women serving in combat.
The women, who attended the academy in the late 1970s and early'80s, said Wednesday that the column in Washingtonian magazine emboldened male midshipmen to humiliate them. Some of the men even wore"Jim Webb Fan Club"T-shirts.
"I was devastated to be told by a war hero that the academy should be shut down rather than accept me and that my very presence was responsible for the degradation of the military,"said Jennifer Brooks, a 1982 graduate now retired after 20 years in the Navy.
The women spoke at a news conference organized and paid for by Webb's Republican opponent, Sen. George Allen, in a race that polls show is about even.
The women said Webb's article,"Women Can't Fight,"made almost intolerable the already edgy relationship between male midshipmen and female midshipmen, first admitted to military service academies in 1976.
Excerpts from the article, in large bold print, hung against a black drape behind a podium theatrically lit for a camera crew of the Republican media firm producing Allen's campaign ads.
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In the article, Webb describes the horror of combat in Vietnam for the Marine infantry company he commanded and explains why he believes it was no place for a woman. He wrote that he had never met a woman, including those at the academy who would become Navy officers,"whom I would trust to provide those men with combat leadership."
The article also described an academy residence hall that housed 4,000 men and 300 women as"a horny woman's dream."
"There was no way, ... no method to getting away from the intense, almost palpable resentment,"Brooks said."It was unbelievably demoralizing to be painted as a pampered slut who was just taking up classroom space and predestined to endanger the lives of the brave young men around me."
In a statement released by Webb's campaign, he said he did not anticipate the widespread reaction to his article,"and to the extent that my writing subjected women at the Academy or the active Armed Forces to undue hardship, I remain profoundly sorry."
Webb said in the statement he wrote the article"during a time of great emotional debate over a wide array of social issues in this country, and the tone of this article was no exception."He said he is"completely comfortable"with women's roles in today's military.
One of the women, 1982 graduate Linda Postenreider, said she spoke to Webb by phone on Tuesday night.
"He seemed willing to consider an apology or at least an acknowledgment to the brigade, especially those who served in the classes of'80 through'89, for his article that caused such grief and destruction,"said Postenreider, who now lives in California and is a registered Democrat.
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