Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Pregnant Soldiers Face Disciplinary Action

The U.S. Army commander in northern Iraq yesterday backed off his threat to court-martial soldiers who get pregnant, and men who impregnate them — now, they'll probably get sent home with a nasty letter.

"I see absolutely no circumstance where I would punish a female (or male) soldier by court-martial for a violation," said Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo. "I fully intend to handle these cases through lesser disciplinary action," including reprimand letters, Cucolo said.

Cucolo, 51, drew the wrath of the National Organization for Women with an order last month implying that sexual relations in the ranks leading to pregnancy could result in a court-martial and possible jail time, even for married troops!

"I have never considered court-martial for this, I do not ever see myself putting a soldier in jail for this," Cucolo said yesterday.

Despite Cucolo’s assertions yesterday, the fact remains that he HAS the authority under the order he issued to do just that!

A female veteran, who asked not to be identified, told a newspaper that her own deployment to Iraq in another general's command ended early after she became pregnant by her boyfriend.

The woman said she was not disciplined. "If I was punished, I would have been humiliated," the woman said. "I was already humiliated by the people that had to know."

Cucolo is believed to be the first to make the pregnancy an offence that could be dealt with by court-martial – for both the woman AND THE man. The ruling applies only to troops under his command and not to women who are raped.

His apparent abrupt reversal yesterday made worldwide news. Cucolo attempted to clarify that the order was intended to emphasize the problems created when pregnant soldiers automatically went home, leaving behind a weaker unit, because of being left short-staffed.

"I need every soldier I've got. I need them for the entire duration of this deployment."

Cucolo commands a task force of 22,000 soldiers, including 1682 females, which oversees northern Iraq including cities such as Tikrit, Kirkuk and Mosul.

"If you are a pregnant female in a combat zone, you are redeployed, period," he said. "That is not my call, that is just what we do."

"I have to accomplish a very complex mission. I'm going to do what it takes to maintain our strength," he said.

Genevieve Chase, the founder of American Women Veterans, an organization to help female veterans, said the issue was difficult, "because pregnancy does impede readiness."

"Enforcing the rule of this is what's going to be difficult," she said.

There was already a heavy stigma on women who became pregnant in the battlefield, believe some got pregnant to obtain a get-out-of-war free card.

"Every time a female gets pregnant there's that automatic assumption, that you're trying to get out of the deployment."

Even though it now appears that the soldiers will not face a general court, there are several reprimand options that military command now has at its disposal and for some, it will be permanently entered into their service records.

Seven soldiers have been reprimanded under the new ban. The four female soldiers who became pregnant were given letters of reprimand that will not remain in their permanent military file, as were two of the male soldiers. A third soldier who is married received a permanent letter of reprimand for impregnating a subordinate who is not his wife and for fraternization. The four female soldiers were all reassigned outside of Iraq and the three men remained.

There were also four other female soldiers who were sent home without punishment, after finding out they were pregnant shortly after arriving in Iraq.

Cucolo, Commander of the Multi-National Division-North in Iraq, generated standing orders for all soldier’s under his command; General Order No. 1, bans female soldiers from getting pregnant. But the order doesn’t just hold women accountable, male soldiers fall under the same guidance and responsibility.

“I can’t tell you how valuable my female soldiers are,” Cucolo said. “They fly helicopters. They run satellites. They’re mechanics. They’re medics. Some of the best intelligence analysts I have happen to be female. You start losing them when you’re facing a drawdown, and you really hurt the unit.”

Cucolo said the policy falls under the Command’s General Order No. 1, and that he said he was prompted to issue it by his experience as Division Commander with the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart/Hunter Army Airfield, Ga., along with his intense desire to maintain fighting strength any way possible for a very tough and complex mission.

He said the purpose of this rule is to cause soldiers to pause and think about the decisions they make and how a personal decision has major consequences, like leaving their teammates shorthanded in combat, not the consequence of punishment. Cucolo stressed that he can handle violations with lesser degrees of punishment, and has not considered court-martial.

The U.S. Navy is reviewing its own policies regarding pregnancies by women in its Nuclear Submarine service, which routinely head out on extended sorties, often lasting 70 plus days at sea, without ever going into port. Since September, the U.S. Navy has been reviewing the possibility of women serving on submarines.

“I believe women should have every opportunity to serve at sea, and that includes aboard submarines,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said in a statement to Navy Times.

His comment comes one week after Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen told congressional lawmakers that he thought it was time to end the ban against women on submarines.

Should a woman hide her pregnancy and be aboard a ballistic missile submarine, it could raise significant operational challenges; including a significant change to operations and procedures, including a new requirement to surface should medical complications arise.

Being forced back to port or rendezvousing with a surface ship will be a topic of heated policy debate both within the Pentagon and on the Hill. A possible solution maybe requiring women officers and sailors to take pregnancy tests prior embarking.

According to the Navy Times, as of May the Navy had 7,900 female officers and 44,000 female sailors, comprising about 15 percent of officers and sailors in the 330,500-strong active component.

I can certainly understand that in times of war, every military unit must count on all of its member-soldiers to do their jobs, and to be there when needed. It is, however, unfathomable to me that Cucolo considered court-martialing pregnant soldiers and their male sexual partners – especially married-couple soldiers! A reprimand seems appropriate, but I don’t think such a thing should even be considered to be attached to the soldier’s permanent record.

— The Curator

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