'For Family, For Country': Military Moms Do It All

For Moms who are on active duty in the military, meeting professional obligations while raising a family can be a tricky and challenging balance. Lt. Carey Lohrenz (ret.), Lt. Cmdr. Linda Maloney (ret.) and Pilar Arteaga, a petty officer first class in the Navy, discuss parenting in the military.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, bestselling author E. Lynn Harris is back with a new novel set in the world of professional basketball. We'll tell you about it in just a few minutes.

But first, they say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few moms in your corner. We visit with a diverse group of parents each week for their common sense and savvy parenting advice. Today, talk about balancing work and family. Let's say your job used to involve traveling long distances to dangerous places.

But as your life and responsibilities changed, you changed too and put that work aside to concentrate on family life, perhaps support your spouse's career. But then your old job calls you back, what would you do? Especially if your job is a commitment to serve your country in uniform. That was Lisa Pagan's dilemma.

She was released from active duty in the Army four years ago, during which time she had two children. But she still had a short time left on her military commitment. And when she was recalled to active duty in Fort Benning, Georgia last week she brought her two children with her, saying she had no way to care for them while she was gone.

She has since, according to her attorney, been granted an honorable discharge. Pagan is only one, though, of thousands of servicemembers who have left active duty but who have since been called back, forcing them to reconfigure family life on short notice. Now, this case, of course, raises many questions, but we decided to focus on the dilemma facing military mothers.

So we're joined now by a panel of military moms. They all happen to be Navy moms. Carey Lohrenz is a former lieutenant. She was one of the first female combat fighter pilots in the Navy. She raised two of her four children while on active duty.

Linda Maloney is also a former naval aviator, a lieutenant commander. She's in the process of editing a book called, "My Mom Flies," about mothers in the military who are current or former military aviators. Also with us is Pilar Arteaga. She currently serves as a petty officer first class in the Navy. Ladies, moms, welcome to you all. Thanks for joining us.

Officer PILAR ARTEAGA (First Class Petty Officer, Navy): Hello.

Ms. CAREY LOHRENZ (Former Combat Fighter Pilot Lieutenant, Navy): Thanks for having me.

Ms. LINDA MALONEY (Former Naval Aviator and Lieutenant Commander): Thanks for having me here today.

MARTIN: Pilar, let me start with you. You are a single mom, as I understand it.

Ofc. ARTEAGA: Yes.

MARTIN: Raising a four-year-old. Did you know when you started your Navy career that you intended to have children? Just wondering how you thought you would work it out.

Ofc. ARTEAGA: I knew eventually one day I would have children, but he came as a bit of a surprise. And when he came along I had been in the Navy 10 years already. So it was an adjustment, but I knew eventually one day I would have children, and I would figure it out once I got there, so…

MARTIN: Have you had to leave him, have you had to deploy? And what have you done when you have done so?

Ofc. ARTEAGA: Yes. I deployed when he was two-and-a-half on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, it's an aircraft carrier. And I was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia on the ship, and his father and I were co-parenting. So he has a big part of his life, but he kept him for those seven-and-a-half months. And he did a wonderful job taking care of him while I was gone. So I had no worries at the time, so…

MARTIN: And if you should have to go out again, the same arrangements?

Ofc. ARTEAGA: No. Since getting transferred to Great Lakes, Illinois, his father has kind of taken a step back. But I have friends, I have a good support system. And one of my best friends that I was stationed with when I first came into the Navy, I'm still friends with her, and she's willing to take care of him if I have to deploy again.

MARTIN: Carey, I wanted to ask you, as I understand it, you raised two of your four children while on active duty. Do I have that right?

Ms. LOHRENZ: Yes, you do.

MARTIN: How did you figure that out?

Ms. LOHRENZ: Well, I think that one of the things that we have found is that there are assignments in the military where being pregnant has no impact on your ability to perform the mission. What I did and what I had to try to really figure out is the timing. And I think it's all of our responsibilities to recognize that deployments are a fact of military life. And this has to be a part of your family planning, decision-making process.

I think that this is definitely a leadership challenge for the Department of Defense and all of the services to ensure that they have good training programs in place that educate both men and women on their responsibilities as potential parents, and the options to prevent unplanned pregnancies, as well as the obligations to meet service commitments.

This always falls, for the most part, on the female servicemembers' shoulders. Becoming a parent, there are so many layers of responsibility, but when you are a military parent, you have to have that plan B of who is going to take care of my child when I deploy? Because it's not a matter of if you will deploy, but when you're going to deploy.

MARTIN: I did want to ask both you and Linda this, what is your take on this Lisa Pagan story? And I have to say this, as you pointed out, this is not strictly an issue for women, there are single dads in the military, whether they've been widowed or divorced and who, for whatever reason, don't feel, perhaps, that they have a spouse who's able to take care of the children.

So, clearly, but one hears more about the women. So, Carey, since we're visiting with you and then Linda, I'll go to you. What's your take on that Linda Pagan story?

Ms. LOHRENZ: I think it's very incumbent upon the leadership that when you have soldiers that right now we're currently in the state of multiple and continuous deployments, they have to understand what their obligations are and how they are going to meet those service commitments. Now, she was definitely at the tail end of her inactive ready reserve commitments.

And there are other people that can fulfill that commitment, but it is still a commitment. And when you sign on the dotted line, you need to plan for that, and you need to deploy. That being said, she was fortunate in that she does have a husband that I know of, that is parenting and is very involved. But his company was unwilling to make modifications for him with his job.

And I think, as a nation, we need to look at - what our servicemembers doing right now? They are doing two, three, four, five deployments. We need to support them and their family members that are left behind. For his employer to just say, no, he travels. And if he has to stay home with his kids he's going to lose his job. That seems exceptionally inflexible to me. So I think there are two parts to that as well.

MARTIN: Wow. Good point. Linda, you have your story to tell. And you've also been gathering the stories of other aviators like you and Carey. So, what's your take on this? And, also, if you don't mind, I'd like to ask, how did you figure this out? Your children are two and five.

Ms. MALONEY: Right. But I've been retired for a couple of years, and I had my first son the year I got out of the military so I did not have to deal with that. I'm an unusual case. I didn't get married until I was 39 years old. I didn't start having my babies until I was 42. It's a tricky juggle that, from writing my book and putting it together, that I've seen women have to deal with.

They want to have a career, they want to be in the military, they want to serve, but they also want to have a family. It's a dichotomy that I don't think the military has quite figured it out, especially with the current deployment tempo, how busy the military is, and not just active duty members, but reservists. And I think you find that to be true in the Lisa Pagan case.

Personally, I was very bothered by that, that she chose to go to the media. I think it kind of took women down a peg in the public eye to say, if I can't meet my commitment, I'll just pull the child cart. I'll just take my kids with me and check in. I don't really think that that was the best solution in that.

MARTIN: I was going to ask you about that, because, as we mentioned, women aren't the only people who confront this issue. There are men who are primary caregivers for kids and who may not have other people in their lives. And, also, things happen in people's lives over the course of their commitments.

You know, things change. Perhaps people develop illnesses and things of that sort, but I do wonder whether you're concerned that this case reflects poorly on women in the military and raises, again, the question that some people have about whether moms, particularly, belong in the service.

There are those who will argue, who are skeptical about women in the military in general, but mothers in the military in particular. So Linda, Carey, I'd like to hear from each of you on this.

Ms. MALONEY: Well, you know, if you would've probably asked me this question 15 years ago, I probably would've given you a different answer, not having children. I have a totally different perspective now. I, along with Carey, was one of the first to be deployed on aircraft carrier.

We went through all that went along with that, and I was a firm believer, a staunch supporter, in you know, equal rights, and women should have the same opportunities as the men, if they're qualified. It should not be, you know, gender-based. And I still believe that.

But I do think being a parent throws another, you know, wrench in all of it. And it does make me look at it a little bit differently. I am very fortunate that I did not have to deploy when my kids were small, but if I was put in that position, and I chose to go into the military, I would fulfill my commitment.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking to three Navy moms about the challenge of taking care of a family and balancing a military career, especially during wartime.

Well, Carey, let me as you this question because you figured it out somehow. How did you figure it out?

Ms. LOHRENZ: Well, I think that there are definitely some unique work/family balance issues that are addressed. Just like in the civilian sector, military parents need both convenient, affordable and dependable child care when children are young. And they may need it, not only during the day, but on nights and weekend, as well, and sometimes they need it overnight or for extended periods.

One thing I think that we need to keep in mind in this day and age is that the majority of servicemembers, say, in the '40s and '50s, were single and that's no longer the case. And what we find now are that all servicemembers across the board require more family support services. It is not just the women. And when you factor in that these folks are going on these multiple extended deployments, the stress on their families and individually are enormous.

And you know, you do have other methods, hardship transfers, humanitarian transfers, and you need to work within those channels to figure it out. I was able to figure it out, and I was part of a dual military couple. My husband was a Marine Corps F-18 pilot. But after we had our first child, we needed to make the decision of are we both going to stay in, or does one of us need to get out to guarantee that we have one parent at home that we can count on?

That was our Plan B. And so after 12 years in the Marine Corps and faithful service on his part, he got out because I still had commitment left, but we planned for that. And like Linda said, I think we both chose to have kids later in life than maybe we would have because we knew there was a lot at stake. And we felt very obligated to meet our military requirements and obligations.

MARTIN: Pilar, can I hear from you on this? I have to tell you, I'm puzzled by it because I, on the one hand, I completely understand what you're saying about commitments, and people need to fulfill and honor their commitments, particularly when you're under scrutiny.

On the other hand, I think sometimes people - you know how people always say having a child changes you in ways you could never anticipate, no matter how many kids you've been around your whole life, no matter how many of your friends have kids? You can't always predict how it's going to change your life. So Pilar, can I hear from you?

Ms. ARTEAGA: Well, I think in contrast to Carey and Linda, being a single mom, like I said, my son was a bit of a shock when, you know, I found out I was pregnant, but I also knew that I had to figure out a plan. And as far as the Army woman who brought her two kids - I'm sorry, I forget her name, Lisa Pagan, I think it was.

MARTIN: Yes.

Ms. ARTEAGA: I agree with Linda on it. It kind of brought us down a couple pegs. And I know for myself, I don't know if it's the same in the officer's community, but being enlisted as a woman, you find yourself proving yourself a whole lot more than maybe the guys do. And in my mind, the Navy was a part of my life before my son was. So now I had to kind of fit him into my lifestyle.

I'm just fortunate, and not every woman has a support system there, but I was fortunate enough everywhere I've been I have a support system. So you have to figure out what you're going to do. And I do believe that all too often that I'm-a-single-parent card is thrown down way too much. And it's not fair to the rest of us that are doing what we're supposed to as military members and figuring out how we're going to make all the steps to make sure that everything works cohesively before and while we're gone.

MARTIN: Linda, can I hear more about the women that you profile in your book, which I think will be a fascinating read?

Ms. MALONEY: Well, I want to pipe into what Pilar said about planning. And from all the different women, I have about 100 women right now participating in the book, and they all say that prior planning is absolutely key because several of the people, several of the women, are single moms, but several of them are married dual-active couples. They're both active duty.

And even being both active duty, it also take a lot of, you know, pre-planning like when one person is going on deployment, the other person is at home. And so they have to balance that. Then they never see each other, but at least they know someone's home with their kids. And a lot of the women have live-in nannies.

Some of them have live-out nannies. But the biggest thing in every woman's story, the common thread that kind of weaves itself is that you absolutely have to have some type of support network.

MARTIN: Carey, can I hear from you? We only have a couple minutes left. You've each been talking about the fact that there are the realities of modern life and that our servicemembers are older, they're more likely to be partnered than perhaps the image that people have in their minds. What do you think would make the biggest difference in addressing these kinds of challenges?

Ms. LOHRENZ: Well, I think pregnancy in servicewomen has been a hot button issue since women have become part of the armed forces. And there is this pervasive myth that if a woman has to be removed from deployment due to pregnancy that it causes this under-manned status. And like Pilar was saying, there can be some hostilities there.

Now, the reason I say that is because I think it goes back, once again, to it being a leadership challenge, and leadership that has to educate continuously, not just a one-time, one-lecture initiative, but ongoing training to help prevent unplanned pregnancies and to guide our sailors, and Marines and our armed forces that they're able to meet both their obligations to their service, their country and their families.

I think it is leadership, leadership, leadership. And some of that stuff can be fixed with easy changes, like Linda was saying. You know, most of the on-base child care facilities are open from 6:00, you know, 6:30 until 6:00 at night.

Well, most of the stuff that I did, you'd have 5:00 a.m. briefs, you'd have a 6:30 physical training appointment, stuff like that. So there needs to be a recognition of that. And I do think those are some of the same issues that you see in the civilian sector and why there are problems with women trying to move up the corporate ladder if that narrow definition of when child care is available. And we need women. We need women in the military services for manning and for some diversity of thought. It's a good thing.

MARTIN: Carey Lohrenz is a former Navy lieutenant. She is currently the director of leadership for the Core Group. It's a company that teaches strategic planning and execution. She joined us from WKNO in Memphis, Tennessee.

Linda Maloney is also a former Naval aviator, a former lieutenant commander. She is currently working on a book about mothers who are military pilots. It's called "My Mom Flies." She joined us by phone from her home in Maryland. And Pilar Arteaga is currently a first class petty officer in the Navy. She joined us from Studio Media in Evanston, Illinois. Ladies, moms, thank you all so much for joining us and good luck to all of you.

Ms. LOHRENZ: Thank you.

Ms. ARTEAGA: Thank you.

Ms. MALONEY: You've very welcome.

MARTIN: And if I may, thank you for your service.

Ms. ARTEAGA: Thank you.

Ms. LOHRENZ: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: If you are a military mom or a dad, we'd like to hear your story, too. How have you been able to balance the demands of service with the demands at home? Are there things that the American military and the American people could do to better support you and your family?

To tell us more, please call our comment line at 202-842-3522. That number again, 202-842-3522. Please remember to leave your name. You can also log onto our Web page. Go to npr.org. Click on TELL ME MORE and blog it out.

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