Women in the Army

In This Series
Part One: A Trench Between Women, Jobs

Part Two: Little Room for Women at the Top

Part Three: In a Crunch, Ban on Women Bends

From The Post

  • A Post Magazine report on drill sergeants.
  • A committee has recommended that females be trained separately.
  • The separate training idea may not be taken seriously.

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  • Women in the Army

    Pregnancy Often Causes Tension in Army's Ranks

    By Dana Priest
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, December 30, 1997; Page A06

    At 6:30 a.m. three days a week, about 70 soldiers sweat through a workout in the field house at Fort Campbell, Ky. They share standard Army T-shirts and the fact that each is pregnant.

    The mandatory exercise program is the 101st Airborne Division's way of trying to get women back to work as soon as possible after 42-day maternity leaves. It's one of the few Army programs to address workplace issues raised by pregnancy, an awkward and sometimes volatile subject in the military.

    While nobody in the Army is surprised that women soldiers have babies, pregnancy often causes tension in the ranks. Commanders complain about the inconvenience of soldiers unable to perform all their duties. Some male commanders are unsure about what work pregnant women can do and play it safe by assigning them to desk jobs.

    Because pregnant women are "nondeployable," meaning they cannot be sent on missions or field exercises, some women are accused of becoming pregnant to escape foreign assignments or unpleasant jobs, or to move off base into better quarters. In some cases, a pregnancy means a male soldier, often with a family of his own, has a deployment extended to cover for a woman's absence.

    About 5 percent of women in the Army are pregnant at any time, less than half the civilian rate of 11 percent. But in some war-fighting divisions, where the proportion of young soldiers is much higher than in the Army's training and staff bureaucracy, the rate is around 10 percent. The issue is likely to grow in relevance now that women account for 20 percent of new Army recruits.

    Unlike private industry, where temporary replacements are often hired or transferred within a firm, the Army has no system for filling in for soldiers who are pregnant. When two soldiers out a unit of 10 became pregnant recently in the 501st Aviation Regiment in Hanau, Germany, Capt. Shawn Cowley had to ask the others to take on extra work. "The system can't react and move people around so fast," said Cowley.

    There is also no "mommy track" in the Army, nothing that resembles the flex-time, job sharing and part-time arrangements available to many civilians. Mothers must be ready to leave children with relatives and friends for months at a time.

    Many women find the trade-off unacceptable. Separation from families is the number one reason women leave the Army or consider resigning before retirement, cited by 17 percent of women officers in a recent Army survey, double the 8.5 percent for men who cited family reasons for leaving or thinking about leaving early.

    "We find more males than females willing to pay that price," said Col. Volney J. Warner, commander of the 1st Armored Division's 2nd Brigade. "Institutionally those female leaders are very important people. . . . Those are people we want to keep."

    The difficulty of being a working wife and mother in the Army may discourage some women from starting a family. While 79 percent of male officers are married, 53 percent of their female counterparts have spouses, according to Army statistics. Among enlisted soldiers, 61 percent of men and 46 percent of women are married.

    "If we're going to have senior females in positions of responsibility, they've got to have families," said Col. Daniel J. Roh, head of the 1st Armored Division's Support Command. "We've got to find a way to solve these problems. It's purely selfish. I don't want to retrain people."

    © Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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