Women can do most things as well as men. Almost nobody any longer disputes that. Women can do some things better than men. Many women thought Donald Trump as president would be a disaster for the final female assault on the glass ceiling. It hasn’t turned out quite that way, and women, such as Nikki Haley and Betsy DeVos, have been stars of his new administration.
But one of the things that women have not done so well is soldiering, and by the most recent evidence, “sailoring” either. Women, with some exceptions, may not be cut out for making war. But this new evidence demonstrates that they’re uniquely efficient at making babies.
New statistics obtained from the Navy by the Daily Caller — which had to sue under the Freedom of Information Act to get them — reveals that 16 of 100 women afloat are pregnant and have been reassigned from ships to shore duty.
These figures, for the year 2016, are up 2 percent from 2015, and hundreds more have cut their deployments short, at a high cost to combat readiness, as well as having deep effects on budgeting, manpower (which of course includes “womanpower”). These figures cast a deep shadow over the Obama administration’s goal of making the sexes (“genders,” in the preferred politically correct nomenclature) equal in numbers and every other way, which explains why the Navy doesn’t want to talk about the flight of the stork.
Women are reassigned to shore duty far more frequently than men, 50 percent more often by the Navy’s own figures, and this is particularly costly to the Navy as it anticipates dramatic expansion under President Trump’s plans to restore the military to top fighting strength. Jude Eden, author of several books about women in the military and himself a Marine veteran of the war in Iraq, says the training and subsequent transfer of a pregnant woman from ship to shore costs the Navy up to $30,000, and such transfers cost the Navy $110 million in 2016 alone.
“This is an avoidable cost and expense,” he tells the Daily Caller, “leaving a gap for other people to pick up the work slack.”
Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness and a member of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services in the Reagan administration and a member of the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces under President George H.W. Bush, agrees.
“A pregnancy takes you out of action for about two years,” she explains. “And there’s no replacement. Everybody else has to work all that much harder. On small ships and submarines you really have a potential crew disaster.”
There’s colorful precedent for such disaster. When the USS Acadia, a supply ship, returned from the first Gulf war in 1991, 36 women in the crew of 450 were transferred to shore duty because they came home in a family way. A Navy spokesman insisted, despite persuasive evidence readily at hand, there was no evidence that anyone broke regulations prohibiting sexual relations between men and women while on duty. To the consternation and embarrassment of Navy brass, the Acadia was christened “the Love Boat” by the press, inspired by a popular television series about high life aboard a cruise ship.
The Navy, like other branches of the military, not so long ago considered pregnancy incompatible with military service and women who became pregnant were routinely discharged from service. But that was then, and with the dawn of the all-voluntary military, the services, including the Navy, provide many incentives to both men and women as it must recruit to fill its ranks. Benefits to keep the volunteers flowing include free housing, medical care, educational and recreational opportunities, and women get extras: free natal care, day care, counseling and special education for children with disabilities and “other needs.”
Evidence of the difficulty of mixing the sexes in intimate surroundings is routinely given short shrift and the findings are routinely suppressed. The Navy, for example, publishes findings from studies called “Navy Pregnancy and Parenthood Survey. Summaries often ran to a hundred pages. From 2012 on, the Obama administration limited these summaries, with bad news, to two or three pages. One civilian who worked on them says full summaries were written, but never made public.
Some sailors have said for years that some women, happy with shore duty, deliberately get pregnant to avoid deployment aboard ships. “There do seem to be coincidences,” says Elaine Donnelly. “There’s lots of anecdotal evidence. The information is considered so sensitive. You just don’t talk about it. It’s something everybody knows occurs. You don’t ask, and you don’t tell.”
Being ready for action has always been a goal of every military in the world, and a knocked-up Navy doesn’t sound ready — unless it’s with an enemy that promises it won’t shoot.
• Suzanne Fields is a columnist for The Washington Times and is nationally syndicated.