Penalties Imposed For Soldiers Who Get Pregnant
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
A U.S. Army general in Northern Iraq is enforcing a new policy that's attracting attention: becoming pregnant or impregnating a soldier are now prohibited activities that can be grounds for disciplinary action. Major General Tony Cucolo has already disciplined four women and three men, among them two married couples.
NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman spoke with the general about the new rules, and he joins us now. Tom, give us some background. What was General Cucolo's reasoning for doing this?
TOM BOWMAN: Well, this all comes down to what the military calls readiness, making sure a soldier is ready to deploy, particularly to hotspots like Iraq or Afghanistan, and the problem of losing soldiers with critical skills. So, pregnancy now is up there with other prohibited behavior - drug and alcohol use, personal firearms use, gambling. And we talked to the general, and this is what he had to say about it:
Major General TONY CUCOLO (Commander, Northern Iraq): Anyone who leaves the fight early because they made a personal choice that changed their deployable status or contributes to doing that to another, I believe there should be consequences for making that personal choice.
WERTHEIMER: When he says leave the fight early, Tom, is he implying that some women soldiers might get pregnant to get out of war?
BOWMAN: Well, that kind of complaint has been around for years within the military, particularly among men who don't think women should be in the military. But Cucolo says the soldiers are there for 12-month deployment, and anyone who has to leave early - anyone, man or woman - creates a burden on the others. You might not get a replacement, so the other soldiers have to pick up the slack and do your job.
Now, Cucolo is commander in northern Iraq, really the most dangerous part of the country, so he said he needs all his soldiers. He has 22,000 soldiers under his command, and of that, 1,000 of them are women.
WERTHEIMER: So, what kind of punishment have these soldiers received?
BOWMAN: Well, the women, the four women received what's called local letters of reprimand. It's really an administrative punishment, sort of a slap on the wrist. And it's less harsh than an official letter of reprimand that would go into your permanent file and follow you throughout your career and could affect your promotion. The four women were sent back to Fort Stewart, Georgia, where their unit, the 3rd Infantry Division, is based.
Now, there were three men disciplined, since one of the women declined to say who the father was. And all three men stayed in northern Iraq, all but one got a local letter of reprimand. One got an official letter of reprimand, and here's what General Cucolo said about that.
Maj. Gen. CUCOLO: He impregnated a soldier, a woman not his wife, and he is married. So, that's adultery. That's punishable in the military. And he also is a non-commissioned officer and she was a junior soldier. So, that's fraternization.
WERTHEIMER: It sounds like this raises a number of sensitive legal and moral issues, of course - certainly issues of privacy. But for the Army to intervene in the private lives of married couples, that seems extraordinary.
BOWMAN: You know, it is extraordinary, but General Cucolo's lawyers have signed off on the policy. But it's also important to remember here that when you join the military, you give up certain basic rights, like free speech. You can be brought up in charges for criticizing the president or even the secretary of defense.
The general is going to have to sort out all sorts of ramifications of this policy. What happens in cases of miscarriage, abortion, or the case I mentioned where the woman did not name the father? So, she gets punished, but the father doesn't.
WERTHEIMER: General Cucolo was head of Army public affairs at the Pentagon, Tom, isn't that right? Presumably, he's savvy when it comes to controversy in the military. What are his superiors at the Pentagon saying about what he's doing?
BOWMAN: General Cucolo says he got support from his immediate superior. But the top general in the entire Army, General George Casey, visited him in northern Iraq, and Cucolo wouldn't say whether General Casey was supportive. General Cucolo told me, quote, "General Casey gave me great guidance and great professional development, but I'd like to leave it at that."
And then we contacted the Army to see what General Casey has to say about this policy. They haven't gotten back to us.
WERTHEIMER: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Thank you, Tom.
BOWMAN: You're welcome.
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