I've discussed so far a variety of differences between men and women that affect their relative aptitude for combat roles. Another distinction between men and women that has significant effects on military readiness is that only women can become pregnant.
Approximately ten percent of military women are pregnant at any one time. During the Gulf War, pregnancy was the leading cause of women's being shipped back early to the United States. When the destroyer tender USS Acadia returned from an eight-month deployment during the Gulf War, thirty-six of the 360 women on board had been transferred off the ship because of pregnancy. The Acadia was the ship most prominently called "the Love Boat," but it is just one of many that have had that label attached to them.
A comprehensive study for the Navy of female shipboard personnel found an overall pregnancy rate of 19 percent per year. The highest pregnancy rate (27 percent) was on submarine tenders, the class of ships with the largest percentage of women.
With the unprecedented use of female personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan, one would think that the services would like to know what their losses are from pregnancy. According to a spokesman for Central Command, however, "We're definitely not tracking it." A Pentagon spokeswoman said that the Army does release information on how many women choose to leave the service because of pregnancy but not information on those who leave the war theater, implying that the information is tracked, simply not released. Only "general numbers" are released, she said, "to protect the rights of women, soldiers and the organization," although it is not clear how anyone's "rights" would be infringed by release of statistical information about pregnancy losses.
When it comes time to deploy, women fail to do so at three to four times the rate for men, the difference being largely due to pregnancy. Once a soldier is confirmed to be pregnant she becomes 'non-deployable' and will remain so for up to a year. After deployment, many women must be sent back home because of pregnancy.
A Navy study found that a quarter of women (compared with a tenth of men) were lost from ships for unplanned reasons. Large numbers of military pregnancies that are carried to term are unplanned (over 60 percent of those among junior enlisted personnel).
Pregnancy in the later stages means total absence of the woman -- who may or may not be replaced -- but even in the earlier stages it results in substantial limitations on a woman's ability to contribute to her unit. One Army MOS in which there are many women is "fueler." Fuelers are responsible for fueling vehicles and are critical to their units. Unfortunately, however, female fuelers are medically restricted from working in that job because of chemical exposure from the date their pregnancy is diagnosed. As the Army was preparing for Operation Iraqi Freedom, it had to impose a cap on the number of deployed women who could be allocated to that MOS, and it had to move men from other specialties into the fueler job, creating shortages elsewhere.
Women cannot serve at sea after their twentieth week of pregnancy, and even before that they must be removed from ships unless they are within six hours of a facility "capable of evaluating and stabilizing obstetric emergencies." After giving birth, mothers are excused from sea duty for a year.
Women's ability to avoid deployment by becoming pregnant is a constant source of resentment among men. Intentionally injuring oneself to avoid deployment is a court-martial offense; intentionally becoming pregnant to avoid deployment brings no penalty at all, nor does becoming pregnant to avoid deployment, missing the deployment, and then aborting the pregnancy -- a pattern that creates even intensified resentment. This latter phenomenon is almost certainly something that the military does not track, so it is hard to know how widespread it is, but while I was researching my book, several people (all Navy officers) spontaneously mentioned it to me.
Single parenthood is also a much greater problem among women than men. Although in raw numbers there are more single fathers than single mothers (because of the overwhelming disproportion of men in the military), the proportion of women who are single parents is much higher.
Comparison of the numbers of single mothers and fathers is meaningful only if "single parenthood" means the same thing for mothers and fathers, whereas it clearly does not. A Navy survey that inquired into the nature of custody arrangements found that 76 percent of single mothers had sole custody of the child, whereas only 16 percent of men did. While only 8 percent of single mothers had "joint custody (less than half the time)," 63 percent of fathers did. These are very different parental patterns, and they have substantially different effects on deployability -- differences that are obscured by simply labeling the involved personnel "single parents."
The military recognizes the incompatibility of single parenthood and military service. Army regulations, for example, bar single parents from enlisting, stating that "the Army's mission and unit readiness are not consistent with being a sole parent." The problem comes about when individuals already in the service become single parents. Single parents are required to file "Family Care Plans," identifying someone who will be able to take over parental responsibilities in the event of deployment, but if that arrangement falls through — or if the requirement is not complied with — then there can be a significant problem.
During the Gulf War, a number of military women with young children were transferred back to the United States because of the stress of being away from their children. Because of the longer deployments involved in the current conflicts, one doubts that this is a lesser problem today. Reliable data are not available (and perhaps do not exist), however, as the military has an obviously strong interest in not widely advertising the possibility of the return home for parents who miss their children.
My next post will be my last, and I will provide a few closing thoughts.
Related Posts (on one page):
- Co-ed Combat -- Closing Thoughts:
- Co-ed Combat -- Responses to Comments:
- Co-ed Combat -- Pregnancy and Single Motherhood
- Co-ed Combat -- Cohesion and Trust:
- Co-ed Combat -- Combat Motivation:
- Co-ed Combat -- Some Responses to Comments:
- Co-ed Combat - Psychological Sex Differences:
- Co-ed Combat -- Physical Sex Differences and Their Continued Importance:
- Co-ed Combat -- Overview: