Making Both Love and War

When a female soldier gets pregnant, what’s a commanding general to do?  Army Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo III, who commands the Multi-National Division-North in Iraq, tried to deal with the delicate issue realistically.  Noting that pregnancy is one of several conditions requiring evacuation from war zones, General Cucolo issued new rules treating pregnancy as a combat readiness issue.  

Stars & Stripes reported that Gen. Cucolo’s directives outlined penalties including courts-martial for soldiers becoming pregnant or, in the case of men, causing a pregnancy. The rules paralleled prohibitions against other actions, including illegal drug use, elective surgery, or self-inflicted physical injuries, which cause a soldier to be non-deployable or evacuated from a war zone.  

Faster than you can say “maternity uniform,” feminist Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) demanded that Army Secretary John McHugh rescind Cucolo’s wartime pregnancy policy. In a Townhall column titled “National Organization for Irresponsible Women,” Mona Charen asked, “Do any of these liberal senators ever lift their sights enough to recognize that an army is not a social welfare agency?”

Army Chief of Staff General George Casey, who famously suggested that the recent attack at Fort Hood would be an “even greater tragedy if our diversity becomes a casualty here,” met with General Cucolo in Iraq and provided “professional development” guidance.   

The two-star general stuck to his guns, explaining that his goal was to promote “thoughtful thinking and responsible behavior” about personal choices affecting others. Stressing the importance of maintaining sufficient “mission-critical” manpower, Cucolo said,“Since I’m responsible and accountable for the fighting ability of this outfit, I’m going to do everything I can to keep my combat power.  And in the Army, combat power is the individual soldier.”  Cucolo added that letters of reprimand, not the courts-martial and jail penalties that some media reported, were sufficient for enforcement.

Within days, Iraq Forces Commander General Ray Odierno issued a broad new policy that omitted pregnancy from the list of punishable personal behaviors resulting in non-deployable status. The intervention left field commanders to carry on with short-handed units and a new form of DSIW — code for “double standards involving women” — that impose burdens on everyone else.   

The Cucolo controversy spotlighted the failure of feminist-fearing generals — and admirals — to reconsider flawed policies involving women.  Navy Times recently reported that pregnancy rates in the Navy spiked by 50% in two years. Ship crews suffer when pregnant sailors are unavailable for deployment or require early evacuation. Instead of re-assessing misguided policies that worsen the problem, the Navy plans to extend them to the submarine service.  Never mind that short-handed crews and mid-ocean evacuations due to female medical emergencies would compromise undersea missions and put everyone at greater risk.

General Cucolo’s effort was laudable but imperfect, due to possible unintended consequences.  His directives defended the interests of field commanders who need experienced, deployable personnel in war zones, but also affected two additional parties at interest: pregnant soldier-mothers and, in some cases, unborn children and their fathers.

A newly-pregnant soldier could evade legal and career penalties by seeking a quick abortion or the “Plan B” morning-after pill to terminate the pregnancy.  Feminists are demanding that all military bases provide both of these controversial reproductive choices, which probably would be used without the knowledge, much less consent, of husbands or fathers.

A soldier also could protect her career by accusing the father of sexual assault.  This is easy to do in the military, especially when alcohol blurs responsibility.  Rules against sexual contact with foreign troops could be evaded in the same way, since the State Department rarely pursues charges against troops from allied countries.  

Gen. Cucolo’s directives prohibited opposite-sex overnight stays unless the soldiers are married and expressly permitted.  Such relatively-new arrangements, which allow happy couples to make love and war simultaneously, sound pro-family and compassionate, but they are not a good idea.  Intimate relationships and cross-rank fraternization, even of a non-sexual nature, tend to exclude others.  This creates doubts about divided loyalties and weakens unit cohesion.      

Some advocates want unmarried couples to have the same comforts in war zones, and Army commanders have sent contradictory, permissive signals about consensual sex that may have worsened pregnancy problems.  If Congress forces acceptance of gays in the military, homosexuals, bisexuals, and transgendered personnel will expect similar living arrangements, regardless of the impact on military culture, team cohesion, and morale.     

Army Generals Casey and Odierno have missed an opportunity to show leadership on a major issue that has worsened on their watch. They should have praised Gen. Cucolo for his candor and taken the issue to higher levels.  If Pentagon officials considered the issue objectively, they would end gender-based recruiting quotas, which have kept numbers of uniformed women unnecessarily high.  

Members of Congress also should question counterproductive, unauthorized policies affecting women that continue to violate existing regulations and law.  Our military needs courageous female volunteers, but the Army should not rely on legions of single women and mothers to fight our nation’s wars.  President Obama should invite young men to volunteer, and restore sound priorities that put the needs of our military first.