FIELDS: Leaving home and hearth for battle

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Some of our women in the military are new American heroines, having served with both sacrifice and distinction. We owe them all a debt we can never fully repay. But some of them are victims of military bureaucrats and high-ranking policymakers who are blind to the values of our culture and deaf to the ancient call of history.

Our grandparents would have treated as a bad joke the idea that mothers of small children could be soldiers and sailors. The idea that some of them would go to war “in a family way” would have been beyond understanding. But one Navy ship became famous as “the Love Boat” when one in 10 members of the crew reported to sick call pregnant.

However, with the passage of time, the unthinkable becomes the convenient, and the Army this month discharged as unfit a young woman who refused to deploy to Afghanistan because she couldn’t find someone to care for her 10-month-old son. The Army wanted to court-martial her but lost its nerve and made a humiliating retreat when Spc. Alexis Hutchinson’s story became public. Shame can embarrass the mightiest warrior. The Army first said she had had plenty of time to make arrangements for her son, Kamani, but didn’t, and therefore she was subject to military trial and punishment. Then the issue magically was resolved: “The soldier will not be tried by court-martial and therefore is not at risk of receiving a federal conviction,” an Army spokesman said. She will be “busted” to her lowest enlisted rank and may lose other Army and veterans benefits. But 10-month-old Kamani will keep his mother.

She would have been charged under military Form D-A 53-05. (Bureaucrats in and out of the Army love to talk this way.) All soldiers are required to sign this statement that “a family care plan” has been put in place. Her lawyer said she informed the Army that her family care plan had “fallen through” and there was no one to take care of her son and she was afraid she would lose him to a foster parent. Tough, the Army said.

No doubt. The Army is entitled to expect its soldiers to obey orders and regulations, but Spc. Hutchinson never should have been put in the position of choosing between the Army way and a mother’s first obligation, to her child’s welfare. Any nation’s army earns its unique place in respect and affection by protecting home and hearth. It can’t do that when it attempts to take home and hearth to battle.

Since the attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 200l, the Center for Military Readiness says more than 120 women have died in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait, many of them in plane or helicopter crashes and explosions of the roadside devices that make sudden death the companion of everyone who travels the roads of those benighted places. This compares to 16 women, mostly nurses, slain in the Vietnam War and just six killed in the first Gulf War, most of them by Scud missiles. The Army is reluctant to recognize the women killed in the Middle East, not wanting to call attention to the oft-gruesome deaths of women, who are not supposed to be at risk of death in combat. Congress made the rules, but the Army has found ways to tell Congress to mind its own business.

This suits Congress just fine. A senator or a congressman doesn’t want to get caught in a crossfire between public opinion and feminists and their allies who, personally, don’t want any part of the Army, in or out of combat. The Senate Armed Services Committee last took testimony on the subject 18 years ago; it didn’t even have time to listen in 1992 when it heard from the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces, which recommended that most, but not all, combat exemptions be retained. The last time a House committee heard testimony on the subject was 30 years ago.

The Pentagon, eager to tap new sources of recruits, couldn’t resist taking what appeared to be congressional indifference as a wink and a nudge to do as it pleased. Presidents George W. Bush and Obama have both kept hands off. The Army drew a convenient loophole by redefining missions. A case in point was the deployment of the 1st Battalion, 293d Infantry of the Indiana National Guard last year with 39 female soldiers. We can expect those women to do their duty, as women in the military always have, but when men send women to war, the country has lost something very precious.

Suzanne Fields is a syndicated columnist.

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