If the Army Had Wanted You to Have a Family, it Would Have Issued You One, Soldier!

| Sun Feb. 24, 2008 10:16 PM EST

That's the kind of thing our hard-nosed superiors used to say to us when we bitched about how duty interfered with our lives (took me twice as long to get a BA, what with all the traveling). Some things cross a line though: military motherhood in a time of war without end might just be one of them. It was one thing, having to put my BA (and MA) on hold. I once had eight days to pack up my entire life in Maryland and report to Texas. Eight days, after waiting nearly a year for those orders. But, I was single, no kids. I managed. It would have been quite something else to wave bye bye to my newborn, as it turns out so many military moms are having to. Things just get worse and worse from our troops and our war.

Time away from family is the top reason given for troops not re-upping, a problem which affects the mothers of infants in a special way. The Army only gives new mothers six weeks of maternity leave and a four month delay in deployments. Unsurprisingly, women's willingness to serve in the Army has dropped faster even than the men's; from 10% to 4% according to the Army's youth surveys. Washington Post: "Other services grant longer exemptions, and all have generally shorter deployments: The Navy exemption is 12 months, and the Marine Corps's is six months, and deployments average seven months for both. The Air Force has a four-month exemption, but its deployments average only four to six months." Nearly 40% of women on active duty have children

You have to read the Post piece to make yourself dizzy getting behind the gestational math couples have to master to time getting pregnant at exactly the right moment between/during or after deployments. In the case of dual career military couples, infants end up spending the first year or so of their lives with grandparents or other more attenuated guardians. There went breastfeeding.

The military life isn't for everyone, but this is the kind of thing that the Pentagon brass had better do some serious thinking about. Potential recruits, and the mid-career types we're losing in droves, certainly are.

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