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.