#22 Women in the Army Chapter 3...Ahead of Our Time

One of the conversations I most enjoy when dealing with younger leaders has to do with women in the Army and why they join. In an earlier post (#3 ), I alluded to this and have also made the argument at other times that, in many ways, the Army puts women in a very tough spot. As long as we continue to force her to choose between motherhood and service, we (the Army) will lose. Although strides are being made to improve a woman's ability to both serve her nation and raise a child, not enough is being done.

The attached link is from an article in the New York Times. They have been running a series on women in combat which you can find on their home page. Ultimately, the article highlights the challenge of combining motherhood with service and deployments. Check it out here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/27/us/27mothers.html?_r=2&partner=rss&emc=rss

If I were in charge of the Army for a day, my plan would be pretty simple. Since most women can continue their daily jobs for at least the first 6 - 7 months of their pregnancy, they would do so. Unless a Dr. said otherwise. In that instance, the doctor would win. From month 7 on, they would go on maternity leave for 1 year. That would give them the last 2 months to prepare for the arrival of their child, and another 10 months after the birth to bond, breast feed, nurture their infant and work themselves slowly back into pre-pregnancy physical shape. It would also provide the critical time necessary to plan, and figure out how they will provide for their new family when they go back to work. It would simply be as if the world stopped at a moment in time, and then picked up again 12 months later.

What would the 'cost' of this be? Obviously, there is a risk of some Soldiers intentionally becoming pregnant in order to escape an impending deployment, and certainly there would be those who would do so. But they already exist today. My guess though is that it would be a negligible amount. Another concern is that those Soldiers are on the books, but wouldn't be deployable, so I cannot get a person in exchange for them who can deploy. This is manageable at both local personnel and Army Human Resources Command level, especially given 7 months lead time. If, as has been previously stated, only 15% of the Army is female, it is highly unlikely that all 15% are going to be pregnant at the same time. More likely 3 or 4%. (That's a total guess on my part). This is really a very small total number, and of that, those who serve in absolutely critical positions is less than 1%.

If the Army were to do this, would it be reasonable to extend her contract for the additional year in exchange for a year's paycheck and the health care savings attendant to having a baby? I think so. Right now, the Army offers officers the ability to pursue an advanced degree in whatever field they choose in exchange for an extended service obligation. Free education - making them more marketable - in trade for X amount more years of service. So, why not do it for expectant mothers? Now, I can almost hear people saying that a plan like that amounts to an involuntary extension, because if she does not intend to reenlist and gets pregnant inside of a her last year, then you have actually signed her up for however long she had remaining, plus the incurred obligation. Not necessarily. If she chooses to get out on time, then she still can, but the Army will have no obligation to provide for her health care after she leaves the service. All this would do is provide a better choice, allow for critical planning time, and allow a new mother and her infant to spend the first 10 months of their lives together. In the long run, I think many women would feel like additional incurred service would be well worth it.


  1. I absoultely agree with Fen. I myself am in the situation that he talks about the choice of family or Army. The Army does not realize that at least for officers that our "key development" jobs come at the same time as most of begin to think of children. I am now 28 years old. Finally ready to entertain the idea of "mini me's". However, due to the fact that I am in command and my company is due to deploy, I am forced to put that idea on hold for at least another year and a half before I can even contimplate getting pregnant and starting a family with my husband.

    What is worse is that if by some act of God my birth control fails and I have an ooops.. I'm now pregnant, I will loose respect of my fellow officer (junior and senior a like) and the confidence of my Soldiers. I will loose my reputation in the logistics community as a hard working, problem solving officer. I will most certainly be pulled from command. Thus taking me from a fast tracking CPT to a worthless officer who "got pregnant to get out of a deployment".

    All these things combined would make my choice to stay and do what I love in the Army a very difficult one. The Army is very small and that kind of thing will follow you. If not on anything else your ORB. I would be asked at every duty station why my command was cut short. Then the cycle would continue.

    For an organization that focuses so much on the families of the Soldiers, it does not focus on the familes of its female officers and enlisted alike. When a male Soldier comes into work and states his wife is having a baby, celebration follows. When a female come in and states she is having a baby, the statements are always something like "Congrats, but what are you going to do?" Then inevitably the rumors start. I'll admit I have been apart of that rumor mill in the past so it's not just males who think this way, its the women as well.

    I have been in the Army in one way or the other the past 10years. I began to realize that I have never had a female mentor. I am really begining to see why. They all leave! Those who don't either don't have children or they have had their children late in life.

    Just out of my ROTC class, there were 5 females of that 5 five years later, 2 have gotten out, 1 is in the reserves and the other 2 of us are duel military, thus having a reason to stay in for now. Same thing in my OBC class out of the group of girls I kept in touch with 80% of them have gotten out. We all realize on some level the Army has no way to take care of us in this capacity. So instead of subjecting ourselves to the pain and agony of leaving our children a mere 45 days or whatever the new time line is (which is still to short) we get out.

    For me I would like to think that my husband and I can have our kids and both continue the jobs we love in the army. However, that just might be a bridge to far. Only time will tell.

  2. It's funny how my world spins. This exact discussion came up this afternoon with a very senior elisted female Soldier. Apparently, another very senior enlisted male Soldier asked the Division Surgeons Office whether or not they could come up with a briefing, class etc that could be given to females about getting pregnant. When the question was asked by the female senior if this was being done to look after and care for all young women and to counsel them and inform them about pregnancy, OR was this being done to worry about some percieved manpower shortage that would occur, the room got a little quiet. A little too quiet. Should women have to choose between motherhood and service? Is the pregnancy of a Soldier, any Soldier, officer or enlisted, only to be seen as an inconvenience because we aren't willing to live up to the value system we pay so much lip service to. Is a professional's career to be called into question because she picks a particular time to participate in what will undoubtedly be the most complete exultation of womanhood? Will the entire linear chain of command and priorities be thrown away because she - as all parents would - will now put her family in front of the Army? At the end of the day, no matter how much we love serving, it will be those we love who stand by us and provide us the very best of our life's memories. There will come a time when there really is no 'real' choice. If only the Army - and some of it's neanderthal leaders could see that. One year, maybe two.....out of 20. I wonder how many future Soldiers we could create if the environment their mothers served in truly valued their service? Probably exactly the same number who will be counseled by their mothers to not join because of the simplistic thinking that offered them no real choice.