- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2003

A Marine gave birth aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer in the Persian Gulf last month, marking what Pentagon officials believe is the first time an active-duty woman delivered a baby on a combat ship in a war zone.

As a rule, the Pentagon does not deploy pregnant service members to war zones. Navy regulations, which also cover the Marine Corps, require a pregnant servicewoman to notify her commanding officer no later than two weeks after diagnosis.

A Pentagon official said the Marine in this case told superiors that she did not know she was pregnant.

“She never told anybody she was pregnant,” the official said. “I think she claimed she didn’t know she was pregnant. The good thing was the Boxer has a complete hospital on board, so that was not a problem.”

The Marine is assigned to a ground unit in Kuwait and was aboard the USS Boxer in the Gulf area when she went into labor.

Marine Corps headquarters, in response to an inquiry from The Washington Times, released a statement yesterday:

“The medical staff of the USS Boxer delivered a 7-pound baby boy on board the ship May 23 at 10:58 p.m. The mother, a 33-year-old U.S. Marine staff sergeant, is assigned to Headquarters Battery 11th Marines as an administrative chief. Mother and baby, both healthy and in good condition, were transported from Boxer to the New al Mowasat Hospital in Salmiya, Kuwait. Following a short stay, they will travel to San Diego. Names are being withheld until immediate family has been notified.”

As women play a larger role in the armed forces today, pregnancy during military operations is a matter the Pentagon studies to determine whether it hurts combat readiness by leaving critical jobs vacant.

The Navy at one point in the mid-1990s experienced a 10 percent pregnancy rate for women on six-month sea tours and looked at policies to discourage pregnancies while assigned to ships.

A Pentagon spokeswoman said yesterday that she had no data on the pregnancy rate in Operation Iraqi Freedom, in which more than 25,000 women, out of the total U.S. force of about 270,000, were deployed.

Elaine Donnelly, director of the Center for Military Readiness, said the birth should spur the Pentagon to review its policies.

“I know the Marines are good at ‘multiplying’ the force, but this is ridiculous,” Mrs. Donnelly said.

“President Bush should immediately request detailed information on deployability problems and evacuations due to pregnancy during the battle of Iraq,” she said. “Today’s Marine Corps and Navy cannot afford policies that subsidize and, therefore, encourage irresponsible behavior. This baby was born safely, despite obvious hazards, but childbirth aboard warships is not an acceptable situation.”

The Navy adopted regulations in the mid-1990s that declare pregnancy compatible with military service. But the new policy also placed requirements on service members.

The regulations, updated in March, state: “The individual servicewoman is responsible for notifying her CO … of her pregnancy as soon as possible, but no later than two weeks after diagnosis of pregnancy. This will help facilitate planning a request for replacement requisition if the servicewoman is in a sea going/deployable billet.”

No service member can be assigned overseas after the 28th week of pregnancy, the policy says.

The rule is designed to protect the health of the mother and the baby.

Mrs. Donnelly said her research shows that there have been four deliveries at sea since women entered the fleet in 1978. None happened in a war zone on a combat ship. Two occurred in 1994 on support ships while in port.

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