Pregnant troops leave the war; Central Command not counting

U.S. Central Command is not tracking the number of troops who must leave the Iraq war theater due to pregnancy, prompting military advocates to charge the Pentagon wants to keep secret what could be an embarrassing statistic.

There have been anecdotal reports of unmarried soldiers becoming pregnant in Iraq. One military police unit reported losing three women for that reason. Pfc. Lynndie England, the 21-year-old photographed holding a leash attached to an Iraqi prisoner, became pregnant during an affair with another soldier at the Abu Ghraib prison compound in Iraq.

But overall numbers are hard to come by.

“We’re definitely not tracking it,” said a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, which runs the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I’ve been attending operations briefings for two years, and I don’t think I have heard once that pregnancy has come up.”

As in the case of Pfc. England, pregnancies can be embarrassing to the military. In May 2003, the Marine Corps was forced to bring a Marine back home after she gave birth on a Navy warship in the Persian Gulf. She told superiors she did not know she was pregnant.

During the 1991 Persian Gulf war, the press branded the destroyer tender USS Acadia the “Love Boat” after 36 sailors — 10 percent of the women aboard — became pregnant while deployed in support of Operation Desert Storm.

Of British forces in southern Iraq, 82 women were sent home in 2003 after discovering they were pregnant, reported the London Daily Telegraph, which quoted government numbers.

Pregnancies can hamper readiness by creating hard-to-fill vacancies. A presidential commission in 1992 found that pregnancy was a main reason why the non-deployability rate for female troops was three times higher than for men during the 1990-91 Persian Gulf conflict.

Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, said she repeatedly asked the Pentagon to compile the statistics for the current war, but was rebuffed. She finally filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act in April.

Mrs. Donnelly said the issue is important because of changes in policy and attitudes in the early 1990s that put more women in key jobs, including ones closer to ground combat.

“It’s a factor that you can’t ignore,” said Mrs. Donnelly, a member of the 1992 presidential commission. “The answer I’m getting now is, ‘We have not captured that information.’ If that’s true, it’s irresponsible.”

Retired Army Col. David Hackworth says he has also been rebuffed in attempts to get information on troop pregnancies.

“I’ve been getting serious stonewalling from the [public affairs] folks at the Pentagon,” the decorated Vietnam veteran and syndicated columnist wrote on his Web site. “They treat pregnancy stats with a higher security classification than the number of nukes in their arsenals.”

Mr. Hackworth appealed directly to troops in service: “If you can get your hands on some hard stats for your unit, please send ‘em along.”

Mrs. Donnelly said, “It would not be in the interest of the Army to release those numbers because it might raise questions about having so many women in so many unprecedented positions.”

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