Martin C. Evans

“Pregnant? Drop and gimmie twenty!”

In Women on December 25, 2009 at 5:53 pm

Maj. Gen. Anthony A. Cucolo III says soldiers who become pregnant or get another soldier pregnant harm unit cohesion

“Soldier, you will not become pregnant! IS THAT CLEAR!”

In so many words, that was a direct order issued last month to his troops by Major Gen. Anthony A. Cucolo III, who commands soldiers in northern Iraq.

Cucolo, reviving questions over what role women should play in the U.S. military, ordered that female soldiers who became pregnant, and male soldiers who helped get them there, could be subject court martial and jail time.

But Cucolo’s directive was overturned this week by Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top commander in Iraq, after Cucolo’s directive drew sharp criticism from female advocates. Odierno  drafted new policy that will go into effect Jan. 1, which made no mention of pregnancy.

Cucolo, who commands the Multinational Division North, in Iraq, had said the prohibition against pregnancy was essential to protect combat units from losing soldiers during deployments. Because Defense Department rules prevent pregnant soldiers from serving in a combat theater, women known to be pregnant while in Iraq or Afghanistan are required to leave their combat unit and redeploy to their home duty station.

Under Cucolo’s directive, which was first reported by Stars and Stripes, even married couples could have faced discipline for conceiving a child.

“I believe there should be professional consequences for making a choice like that,” Cucolo said before his order was overturned, according to the Armed Forces Press Service.

His directive exposes a longstanding tension over what role if any women should have in the military. While some say women play an invaluable role in today’s modern military, others say maintaining discipline and operational readiness in a poly-gender military is problematic.

But Cucolo’s order last month incurred the wrath of several women’s groups, including the National Organization of Women. Four women in the U.S. Senators, including Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, wrote to the general asking him to rescind the order.

“We can think of no greater deterrent to women contemplating a military career than the image of a pregnant woman being severely punished simply for conceiving a child,” the senators wrote.

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