Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Pentagon Discuses Reasons for Pregnancy Provision in Iraq

News in Balance

News in Balance:

WASHINGTON, Dec. 22, 2009 -- An Army general in Iraq is going beyond the typical protocol to ensure every able-bodied soldier in his unit stays fit to fight, even if it means punishing troops for engaging in sexual activities while deployed.

Through the Multinational Division North command’s General Order No. 1, Maj. Gen. Anthony A. Cucolo III formally prohibits deployed soldiers under his command from becoming pregnant or impregnating a soldier.

Defense Department regulations call for any servicemember who becomes pregnant in a combat theater or learns she’s pregnant after deploying to a combat theater to immediately redeploy to their home duty station for medical care.

“Anyone who leaves this fight early because they made a personal choice that changed their medical status or contributed to making someone no longer deployable is not in keeping with a key element of the Army's warrior ethos – ‘I will always place the mission first,’” Cucolo said. “I believe there should be professional consequences for making a choice like that.”

Although Cucolo, who commands Multinational Division North and 3rd Infantry Division, said he believes disciplinary action should be taken against violators of his policy, he added that courts-martial and legal action are too harsh. The cases he’s dealt with since his division headquarters arrived to Iraq’s Salahuddin province in October have resulted in letters of reprimand.

So far, eight female soldiers have redeployed from their expected yearlong deployment due to pregnancy. Four of the soldiers learned they were pregnant only after arriving to Iraq, and four others conceived while deployed, he said.

The soldiers who conceived after they deployed were punished with local letters of reprimand, which is a minimal punishment that Cucolo explained won’t damage their military careers. Two of the male soldiers also received local reprimands, he said.

“I consider the male soldier as responsible for taking a soldier out of the fight -- just as responsible as the female soldier that I lose,” he said.

Also, one male soldier received a more severe letter of reprimand that will be in his permanent record, due to his senior rank and because he was married. The fourth male soldier wasn’t punished, because the female soldier didn’t disclose his identity, the general added.

The general order Cucolo issued to his troops is stricter than that of his predecessors, the 25th Infantry Division, as well as his higher command at Multinational Corps Iraq, which bans soldiers from entering, residing or spending the night in living quarters with members of the opposite sex between specified hours. However, the previous and current provision doesn’t apply to legally married soldiers, provided that “adequate” and private living quarters are available.

Cucolo credited previous deployments and military experiences for the order’s provision explicitly banning sexual contact, and said the decision to add to the previous policy was made with support from his division’s senior leadership. He stressed the importance of maintaining sufficient manpower during his deployment as “mission-critical.”

“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,” he said. “And in the Army, combat power is the individual soldier.”

Cucolo said he doesn’t believe his policy is too strict, and that the disciplinary actions aren’t the provision’s intent. Rather, he said, his goal in writing the provision over the summer before the deployment was to promote “thoughtful thinking and responsible behavior.”

“I wanted all my soldiers to think before they act -- before they make a personal choice that has consequences,” he said. “That would be the consequence of leaving your team shorthanded in combat, not the consequence of punishment.”

(Report by Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden, American Forces Press Service.)

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