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Should Military Mothers Be Deployed Overseas?

By Hannah Tennant-Moore |

military-familyA recent post about a single mother soldier who refused deployment to care for her son has spurred a lively debate about what limits and protections, if any, should be afforded to mothers in the military.

While some commentators are arguing that women have no place in the army whatsoever, others are arguing that no soldier deserves special treatment and that women who “shirk their responsibilities make things harder for those who are trying to receive equal treatment.”

This video, which synthesizes coverage of the Alexis Hutchinson story, could help ground the debate and raises some new questions.

A blogger at Momania raises the interesting question of whether military mothers with young children should ever be deployed overseas. She writes, “I personally don’t think mothers with small children should be separated at all from their babies and should be allowed to serve domestically.”

Not coming from a military background myself, I can’t evaluate how feasible this suggestion is, but I agree that this option should at least be considered. However, I would expand “mothers” to include any primary caregiver.

What do you think? Are separations from young children an inescapable part of military life, which all soldiers must accept when they enlist? Or should the military put safeguards in place to avoid these separations?


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Hannah Tennant-Moore

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0 thoughts on “Should Military Mothers Be Deployed Overseas?

  1. lisa says:

    I have a good friend who was in the army when her daughter (now 10) was born. She told me that when she gave birth, she was given the option to stay in the military or leave. She chose to stay. When she did this, she had to assign temporary custody papers (in case she was deployed for a month or two) and long term papers (in case it was a year or more). They were going to deploy her to the Korean dmz which meant her daughter would have to live with her parents. She somehow got out of that and got another assignment. I guess my point is, she was given a choice as I assume this mom was. I don’t know if I agree with the choices the army gave her (leave the army or risk being deployed), but my friend knew full well what the potential risks were. Yes, I think it’s not healthy for a mom to leave her kids for a year (as another friend of mine had to do when she was shipped off to Iraq); however, this is a part of the job.

  2. Sara says:

    So all the MEN and FATHERS should have to go more because the women they work with choose to have small children? My daughter should have to go without a father more because of a woman?

    That’s absurd.

    If a woman can’t or isn’t willing to do a job in the military (and EVERY job in the military includes being deployed) then they shouldn’t have the job. It doesn’t matter if there are jobs that they can do that don’t require deploying, those jobs should go just as equally to the man (or single woman) that’s been deployed once or twice or three times already.

    Anyone that has a child while in the service that is single (or dual military) is given the option of getting out of the military if they can’t find a care plan. I know women who have chosen this option as well as women who have chosen to stay in the service who have given the care of their children to a family member.

  3. Lula says:

    I personally don’t think any military parent with a child under the age of 2 should be sent overseas. This includes fathers as well as mothers. However, I don’t know how realistic that is as a suggestion, given that so many people are serving during their prime baby-making years.

    However, we have to acknowledge two issues: 1) that mothers are still carrying primary childcare responsibility more often than fathers are, and 2) as I said in the other thread, women — particularly heads-of-households — need the military as a career option for the same reasons men do. Military service is the SOLE reason why I and my siblings enjoyed the standard of living that we did while growing up; my grandfather used the WWII G.I. Bill to become a teacher and bring himself and his family out of poverty into middle-class living, and then my father served as a reservist during medical school and then spent the bulk of his career providing V.A. medical care. Women need and deserve these opportunities just as much as men do, particularly women who are coming from impoverished backgrounds. I hate war and I hate the fact that military service is sometimes the only way out for people who are born into crappy circumstances, but that’s the way it still is.

    Given these realities, and given the number of single parents who need the military as an option for providing for their children and other family members (fathers as well, but primarily single mothers), I do believe that the military is faced with a need to adapt to changing times. I do believe that single-parent soldiers’ needs are different than those of soldiers who are parenting with a partner. Child Protective Services and foster care are not conscionable options for parents whose only barrier to service is lack of a viable childcare plan. Nor should a parent have to choose between a wanted child and a service career that could change their economic circumstances for the better. That we need to have this debate only proves to me that the military hasn’t yet brought itself to a point of being truly accessible to women — and I consider that a problem that the military is responsible for fixing, not an indicator that women are unfit for service.

    Do any of you who are better acquainted with the realities of military service know if standby non-familial guardianship is frequently discussed as a viable option for parents who don’t have family around to care for their child/ren? We used it a lot back in the 80s and early-mid 90s for parents with AIDS, and it worked well as a means of keeping children out of the system. It allowed the parent to choose either a non-related friend or a “guardian volunteer” to care for their child if they became unable to do so, and was also flexible enough to allow for either the parent regaining sufficient health to re-take custody or for keeping the child with the guardian (and out of the foster-care system) in case of death. Surely the military is presenting non-familial guardianship as an option?

  4. Sara says:

    A parent can choose anyone to be the guardian of their kids while they deploy (provided that both parents agree).

    As for no parent deploying with a child under two. So if you have four kids spaced two years each then you can be in the military for eight years and never deploy? Are you going to not allow the single guys to ever come home? A third of the men in my husbands company had kids under two when he deployed. Deploying is part of being in the military.

    And separate from deployment which takes parents away for long periods of time soldiers are away for training and meetings and overnight duties on a regular basis multiple times throughout the year. My daughter is five and the longest that she’s had her Dad home is three months, and he’s only been deployed once since she was born. He’s been away training in the field for a couple days or a couple weeks or flying off to meetings. Being in the military isn’t like having another 9-5 job where you get to come at home in the evenings, soldiers have to be away to train and they deploy.

    And no child ever goes into CPS or fostercare because of a deployment. Occasionally one will go into emergency childcare because of a medical issue with a caregiver until they can get another caregiver there or fly the soldier home but that’s not foster care, it’s a military spouse that’s trained and registered to handle situations like that on a short term basis.

    Part of having a job is doing your job as the job description states. If you’re not capable of doing that job then you need another one. I couldn’t expect to take a job where the job description stated that I needed to work nights and weekends and say I can’t work those hours because I have a child and expect to keep that job. In the military you have to be able to deploy and travel and work nights and weekends and train without coming home.

  5. Lula says:

    Am I wrong in thinking that deployment is domestic as well as overseas? I would rather not have parents of children under age 2 being deployed overseas, if that’s a practical accomodation (and it probably isn’t). But I don’t object to parents of young children being deployed stateside — like you said, that’s part of the job.

    The issue of CPS/foster care only came up here because the news story stated that Alexis Hutchinson was told to put her son in foster care or quit the military when her childcare arrangement fell through — or at least that’s what I understand from the news stories I’ve heard. Then it sounds like she was arrested and her son taken briefly into CPS custody when she refused to do either. He’s with her mother now while she awaits… trial? whatever the military procedure is that she now faces. I strongly object to a parent being told to place their child into the foster care system simply because they’re having trouble finding childcare, though of course we the public don’t know what non-familial arrangements Ms. Hutchinson attempted to make.

    Overall I agree with you, Sara, about parents having to recognize and agree to the realities of military employment. Are those emergency childcare people available to take guardianship of children like Alexis’s son in situations like this? If not, is there any reason why such a system couldn’t be organized by the military in order to prevent this kind of situation in the future?

  6. Ali says:

    If you cannot find safe care for you child when you are deployed you can ask to be reassigned. That woman in Georgia was stupid. All she had to do was show up wiht her child and tell them and they would have reassigned her. Instead she went AWOL. The military does take care of families. I see no harm in choosing to be deployed if you have a child under 2. Thousands of parents do it everyday.

  7. Giant Panda says:

    Everyone seems to be looking at this issue from the moms and dad’s point of view, but what about the child? Does not he/she have the right to be raised by their own parents? The child never chose to have a parent in the military. I just find it incredibly sad that a baby so young could be forcibly separated from a mother. Yes, it is sad that fathers have to be separated from their kids as well, but a baby under one year old with a single mom? That baby needs at least one parent to cling to in this life.

  8. leahsmom says:

    Maybe there are certain jobs that are incompatible with parenting – we don’t get to have everything we want, and then throw a tantrum if we’re denied it; we’re adults. I think, if you sign up to serve your country, you have signed up to give your life at a moment’s notice. If you and your family decide that this is incompatible with having children, then, you must choose not to have them or leave your job. All parents must make changes at work if they want to have families; if military families don’t want the risk, they shouldn’t be in the military.

  9. CJ says:

    When you go in to the military, you are going in to serve your country, which includes being sent overseas. If you are not willing to do that job, then you shouldn’t be in the military. Period. Whether or not you have a child is not the issue, the issue is that you CHOSE to join the military knowing FULL WELL that you would be deployed. If you don’t want to be deployed for whatever reason (one of which being leaving your children) then don’t join. And if you DO happen to get pregnant and have a baby, and you don’t want to leave that baby, then get out of the military and get a job to support that baby. It’s called taking responsibility for your actions. Some people need to learn how to do so.

  10. Jenna says:

    If she had the option to get out of the military when she had her child and didn’t she knew what she was getting into and what the risks were. (If she was not extended that option it’s a different story.) The chance of deployment is part of what she signed up for.

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