Much appears now in the press and is debated on television about the deployment of military mothers and single parents, men and women, to Saudi Arabia for Desert Storm duty. In the Feb. 10 edition of The Post, Sally Quinn let loose an emotional broadside at the Department of Defense for deploying such troops in the first place. Quinn wants military mothers and single parents to be brought home immediately.

On the other hand, columnist Ellen Goodman let reason, not emotion, guide her train of thought in an article on the same subject, which appeared Feb. 12 {op-ed}. Goodman recognized the services' dilemma and reminded readers that Desert Storm is a microcosm of sorts that reflects the enormous changes in our society and the workplace where women are concerned. Women work; they have joined the armed forces in great numbers. Women marry and have children; many men and women are single heads of households who raise families and try to fit the often jagged edges of careers and family together. To further complicate matters, military men and women marry each other and have children. Getting a good match on their dual careers and family is no easy task. Most do surprisingly well.

America is in its 19th year of fielding the volunteer armed forces. Since the draft ended in January of 1973, the military services have put together a body of military personnel policy, which, by and large, has been purged of gender discrimination. This has paved the way for the great increase in the numbers of women serving today. It has also led to a much more diversified use of women in the military. Granted, combat exclusion laws and policies still bar women from serving in positions that men have defined as combat positions, but that's another story.

This volunteer force is notable for a number of reasons. It is smart, well trained and motivated to perform its missions. It has the highest percentage (11 percent) of women on active duty of any armed force in the world. Thousands of women also serve in the reserves. Further, it is the most married armed force we have ever assembled.

In the active components of more than 2 million people, almost 66,000 troops are single parents. Additionally, approximately 47,000 dual military couples on active duty have minor children. That's 113,000 service men and women, approximately 5 percent of the force. Most of these troops are not recruits or first-term members. Many hold leadership positions in the field.

The armed forces have made a commendable effort to achieve a reasonable accommodation for service members who marry, have children and continue their military careers. The proliferation of military child care centers worldwide, the development and implementation of family-care plans, family-support networks and family-support centers in all branches of the service, as well as the presence of family-advocacy programs, attest to the fact that military leaders take seriously their responsibilities to support both their troops and the troops' families.

The press and the public must understand, however, that military leaders cannot safeguard one category of service members -- the parents -- to the detriment of others who serve. Each military man and woman serves on a team and has a job to do. These teams train together and take care of one another. They depend on each other deeply. Common sense says that the moment of deployment is not the time to break up such teams. Cohesion of the unit would be wrecked when it is most needed. And lives depend on such cohesion.

The U.S. military services are not a conglomerate of special interest groups. There are no mommy-, daddy- or unmarried-soldier tracks to be pursued. Given our lawmakers' penchant for cutting military strength in an often arbitrary way, there is no room in the force for "sunshine soldiers" or "summer patriots" who choose to serve only when and where it suits their comfort and safety.

Having said that, let me now say how proud I am of our servicemen and women -- active or reserve components, married or single -- who have put their personal lives on hold at this time of crisis and commitment. The extent of their sacrifices has yet to be revealed.

Desert Storm is the shakedown cruise for the volunteer armed forces. Any precipitous change now to existing personnel policy is unwise. Mechanisms are already in place throughout the force to deal with individual cases of men or women who need special consideration for a variety of reasons, including parenthood. The least that we can do is to give the services time and space to respond to these cases. If policy changes are made, they should be made in light of mission demands and the needs of the majority, not a minority, of the force.

The writer is a retired Army brigadier general.