Highly qualified personnel are demand across all industries. Keeping such talent is a competitive challenge in the work place. It's no different in the military. Analysts, engineers, communications specialists are highly trained individuals and are the backbone of the logistics, command and control intelligence divisions in the Armed Forces. When a woman working in a corporate environment becomes pregnant, they simply go on maternity leave, and her role is often filled on a temporary basis. But what happens in the military creates a different set of challenges, especially in war zones like Iraq or Afghanistan. Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo, Commander of the Multi-National Division-North in Iraq has generated standing orders for soldier's under his command; General Order 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. In a press release on the Dodlive.mil website, Maj. General Cucolo points out clear reasons for such an order:
"I can't tell you how valuable my female soldiers are," he 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 discussed the policy that bans soldiers from becoming pregnant while on duty in Iraq on a phone interview today. This policy falls under the Command's General Order No. 1 and he said he was prompted by his experience as Division Commander with the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart/Hunter Army Airfield, Ga. and 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. He also said that he believes he can handle violations of this aspect with lesser degrees of punishment and has not considered court marshalling.
"I don't ever see myself putting a soldier in jail for this."
The soldiers will not face a general court, but there are several reprimand options that command 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 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.
The U.S. Navy is reviewing its own policies with respects to women and 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 Thursday 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. One of the sacred tactics of Ohio class submarine commander's is to remain submerged and mitigate as much risk possible in preventing detection. 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 women officers and sailors are required to take a pregnancy tests prior embarking on a sortie.
According to the Navy Times, the Navy as of May 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.