DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
14 April 98

THE CAMOUFLAGE BABY BOOM

"Chief, I can't sail. I'm pregnant."

"Colonel, I can't fly. Gotta breast feed Wendy."

"Sarge, I can't deploy. My baby sitter's sick."

Pregnancy and a mini population explosion in the ranks have degraded our military's ability to fight.

A sailor can't go to sea when she is more than 20 weeks pregnant. Pregnant paratroopers can't jump out of airplanes and pregnant women in all the services must stand down from their regular job if it involves heavy lifting.

An Army ordnance sergeant says "Half my crew are women. If my women soldiers aren't pregnant, they're on maternity leave and if they're not on leave, they're on light duty. We're behind schedule on everything."

One of the most poignant photos of Desert Storm was a camouflage clad mother kissing her child goodbye just before she climbed aboard a desert-bound aircraft.

Today, there are almost 20,000 such single parents. The vast majority of these are women.

Pregnancy and non-deployable workers don't slow down Sears, but they sure rip up the Force. During military operations everybody plays a vital part, not unlike members of a football team. If you're missing a quarterback, you'll probably lose the game. In combat, if crew members are absent, you could lose the fight.

Many serving members are angry and frustrated. They have to pick up the slack, putting in extra hours doing the jobs of Jill, who's too far along to do her duty, or Julie or Bob, who couldn't find sitters to take care of their kids when their units moved out.

Pregnancy has always been a problem with women soldiers. Until the 1970s, a pregnant soldier was given instant walking papers. Then the purpose of the military was to defend America, not to propagate. A captain at Fort Polk says, "Approximately 18 percent of the female soldier population here is pregnant. Of that, over half are unmarried!"

About 15 percent of the force are women and at any given time five to ten percent are pregnant. The number of pregnant or single parent women who can't deploy to a hot spot either because they can't do their job or their baby sitter disappeared is equivalent to an infantry division.

During Desert Storm pregnancy jumped to 15 percent, leaving many units in a main strain. More recently in Bosnia, pregnancy was the single most cited reason for evacuation from the theater. A sergeant there says "It ain't bullet's that's causing holes in our ranks, it's babies."

When I was a soldier boy in the 1940s, less then 10 percent of the force was married. Then the word was, "If the Army wanted you to have a wife, it would issue you one." Today, in the all volunteer military, 70 percent of those serving are married.

Free medicine, low-income housing, and an extensive social support system quietly encourages service personnel to have children. Additionally, many female teenagers coming into the service believe they're baby-proof.

To cope with all the kids, the Pentagon runs a $300 million-a-year child care operation.

A Navy Chief says "When I enlisted, the incentive was see the world while serving your country. Now it's to have a big family and be looked after by Uncle Sam. Kids are causing more damage to the fleet than Japanese torpedoes did during World War II."

Two years ago, I warned in this column about how badly our combat readiness had slipped. At that time, the top brass said this wasn't true and everything was jake. Last week, the General Accounting Office confirmed nothing was jake and that our military readiness was collapsing.

Now the Pentagon, supporting the White House's policy to feminize the military, says, "The women-in-the-military program is working just fine."

This also isn't true.

Our military is too critical to continue to be used as social laboratory for an experiment that failed long ago. Members of Congress must give this issue a hard look just as they are now examining readiness.

Our forces must return to the standard; Pregnant, unmarried women should be automatically discharged. Nor should male or female members marry until their second hitch. By then, they'll have the means and maturity to handle marriage in an armed forces that spends far more time away from home than is healthy for any intimate relationship.

The end