Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Knocked up and deployed: An Army captain’s view

Here Capt. Crispin Burke, an Army helicopter pilot recently returned from Iraq, offers some questions related to recent news about female soldiers getting pregnant in Iraq. Btw, you may also know him as Starbuck: Much to my chagrin, I’ve had three Soldiers get pregnant under my command in Iraq, with a fourth coming up pregnant ...

Podknox/flickr
Podknox/flickr
Podknox/flickr

Here Capt. Crispin Burke, an Army helicopter pilot recently returned from Iraq, offers some questions related to recent news about female soldiers getting pregnant in Iraq.

Btw, you may also know him as Starbuck:

Much to my chagrin, I've had three Soldiers get pregnant under my command in Iraq, with a fourth coming up pregnant about a month after my change of command, so I've dealt with this issue quite a bit.  

Here Capt. Crispin Burke, an Army helicopter pilot recently returned from Iraq, offers some questions related to recent news about female soldiers getting pregnant in Iraq.

Btw, you may also know him as Starbuck:

Much to my chagrin, I’ve had three Soldiers get pregnant under my command in Iraq, with a fourth coming up pregnant about a month after my change of command, so I’ve dealt with this issue quite a bit.  

For both males and the vast majority of females in the military who are serving their country honorably, there’s a profound sense of resentment towards women who get pregnant in a combat zone and go home early. How resentful? One of my NCOs actually got so upset about pregnancies — after witnessing several females get sent home — that he wrote a letter to the editor in Stars and Stripes.  

Certainly, pregnancy is often an easy way for female Soldiers to either get out of the Army, go home early, or (if before deployment) dodge the deployment and do light work on the rear detachment. If a female Soldier is looking at having children anyway, why not have the kid and skip the deployment at the same time? I kind of question the logic of single female Soldiers who get pregnant in order to skip deployments, but unfortunately, many pregnant Soldiers are either in their late teens or early twenties, and haven’t the maturity to weigh the cost/benefit ratio of skipping a 12-month deployment versus 18 years of raising a child.  

I can’t say that I have an easy answer to the pregnancy problem. On principle, I kind of take the Bernard Montgomery approach and acknowledge that troops will always try to have sex — the best thing to do is to mitigate the risk and make birth control and sex education as readily available as possible. Additionally, a great "best practice" I’ve seen involved a routine patrol of NCOs each night through the living areas, which not only discouraged the midnight rendezvous, but also kept the petty theft, vandalism, and sexual assault to a minimum.  Even then, there were still incidents of Soldiers sneaking out to all sorts of places to have sex (I don’t want to give anyone ideas). With sex, unfortunately, always comes the possibility of pregnancies.  

I’ve seen the new MND-North policy regarding possible court-martial for those who get pregnant, and I have a few reservations. Let’s start with the fact that I doubt that every pregnant Solider will get a trial by court-martial — I think it’s largely in place as a deterrent, rather than as a feasible course of action in most cases.  (That’s not to say I’m entirely averse to the Machiavellian practice of a few punishments early on in the deployment to set the tone that certain behavior — or rather, the potential consequences of said behavior — will not be tolerated).

While I agree that deployment pregnancies are huge morale issue that has been largely swept under the rug, I think that out-right court-martial for pregnant females and their male partners (it’s only fair to punish both) might have the following unintended consequences:  

1.) What do we do about married couples who get pregnant in Iraq?  Married couples at the same FOB regularly share living quarters, and, based on observation, account for quite a large portion of the pregnancies in Iraq.  Will commanders punish married couples in the same way as two single Soldiers? I know that sex happens in Iraq, and I get the sneaking suspicion the ones most afraid of being caught–the single Soldiers–are the ones who tend to take more precautions against pregnancies.  (I should conduct a survey)

2.) What if a female has had sex with several males and can’t tell who the father is?  What if she, when questioned about the identity of the father, invokes her 5th Amendment rights and refuses to name the father?  In fairness, both partners should be punished, since they’re both equally guilty. Will only the female be punished while the male walks away free?  

3.) If a female is facing court-martial for pregnancy, might she cry "rape"?

4.) Does this prevent females from getting pregnant before deployment?

5.) What if the female claims she got pregnant on R and R leave?

6.) What is the maximum punishment for pregnancy? The JAGs might want to help me out with this, but it’s my understanding that the female, in the event of pregnancy, can elect to leave the Army immediately in the event of a pregnancy. If this is the case, punishment would be short-lived, and would be, at worst, a Chapter 8 discharge (Pregnancy) with a General Discharge. JAGs?

Just don’t get him started on Star Wars or Megan Fox.  

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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