WASHINGTON — The Air Force, ensnarled in a controversy over its attitude toward working wives, is convening a task force to investigate whether it is exerting too much pressure on women to support their husbands' service careers.
The seven-member panel held its first meeting Wednesday, with orders to report its findings by early December.
Air Force Secretary Edward C. Aldridge and Gen. Larry D. Welch, the service's chief of staff, want recommendations "on how best to resolve or minimize conflicts" between the aspirations of working wives and the Air Force's desire that they support the careers of their husbands by participating in base volunteer work, the Air Force said in a statement.
Air Force sources said the fact-finding effort grew out of a controversy that erupted this summer at Grissom Air Force Base in Indiana.
Wives Complain Publicly
Over the past two months, several wives of ranking officers assigned to Grissom have complained publicly that Col. Gary R. Ebert, commander of the 305th Air Refueling Wing, pressured them to quit their private jobs to better support their husbands' careers.
The Air Force acknowledged that its 8th Air Force headquarters ordered an investigation of the complaints. It said a preliminary inquiry had been completed but the results were still being reviewed by top military brass.
In the wake of news reports about the situation at Grissom, Aldridge and Welch released a statement insisting that the Air Force "fully supports the work aspirations of spouses. . . ."
"In short, where and when the spouse works is not an issue that affects the career of the military member," the officials said.
That broad policy statement, however, has been contradicted by several wives of officers assigned to Grissom.
One of the wives, Nattaya Leuenberger, has said she defied Ebert's suggestions that she quit her civilian job as a substance abuse therapist. She and her husband, Col. John Leuenberger, ultimately resolved the issue by obtaining a transfer to another base in West Germany.
Social Club Encouraged
"I asked him, 'Gary, I want to know exactly what is my job?"' Mrs. Leuenberger said. "And he answered me by saying, 'Your job is to go to the officers wives club's coffees, luncheons and social events.' "
The Air Force, in its statement Tuesday, noted the service "benefits from participation by Air Force members and their families in activities supporting the Air Force community."
The task force, however, "should examine the range of those activities, help clarify the concept of participation and identify the extent and causes of pressures and conflicts between employment or career aspirations and participation in the Air Force community. . . ."
The service said the panel would "conduct a number of fact-finding visits to various bases throughout the United States and overseas."
The task force is chaired by Maj. Gen. Anthony J. Burshnick, the assistant deputy chief of staff for plans and operations. Other members include three women, among them Florence W. Madden, the assistant Air Force general counsel for military affairs.