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West Point works to boost female cadet numbers

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 26, 2014 at 11:46 am •  Published: April 26, 2014

WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) — West Point wants more women.

With female cadets representing less than one in five cadets in the Long Gray Line, the U.S. Military Academy is taking steps to boost the number of women arriving here this summer and beyond.

West Point's new superintendent said the moves — which include more outreach and the cultivation of competitive candidates — will help keep the storied academy ahead of the curve now that the Pentagon is lifting restrictions for women in combat jobs.

"We obviously have to increase the female population for a number of reasons. One is because there are more opportunities in the branches for the females," Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen Jr. said.

Women have been a presence at the nation's military academies since 1976. Female cadets here can grow their hair longer than the standard military buzz-cut and can wear stud earrings. But they carry the same heavy packs, march the same miles and graduate with the same second lieutenant bars the men here do.

"I carry the heavy weapons whenever we do field training exercises," said Cadet Austen Boroff, a woman who refuses to be out-soldiered by her male peers. "I'll take the machine guns, so I'm taking more weight."

And cadets like Boroff remain in the minority, just as they do in the broader military. The Air Force and Naval academies say their student bodies are about 22 percent female. West Point is at 16 percent, mirroring the gender breakdown in the larger Army.

Caslen, who became superintendent last year, said an increased number of female cadets will do more than serve the Army when thousands of combat positions are slated to open to both sexes by 2016. It will also help integrate women at the academy, he said.

West Point, like the military in general, has taken additional steps to combat sexual harassment and assaults. In one high-profile case, an Army sergeant accused of secretly photographing and videotaping women at West Point pleaded guilty last month in a court-martial.

"My objective is to create the climate, the command climate here at West Point, that not only eliminates harassment and assault, but that will also create the teams and create the climate so that every single person feels that they're a member of the team," Caslen said.

West Point has taken a series of subtle steps to increase the percentage of women coming here without lowering admission standards.

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