In a story that's provoked justified outrage, the Army has threatened single military mom Spc. Alexis Hutchinson with a military court marshal for refusing leave her 10-month-old and ship off to Afghanistan when none of her family members could care for the child. In a compassionate display of flexibility, her superiors offered her the alternative of putting the child in foster care. The whole episode seems to be a the result of military keeping an inadequate and inconsistent family policy.
The Army requires single parents to have a "family plan" in case they are deployed, but if yours falls through, you're out of luck. Why isn't there a backup plan? Hutchinson -- a chef -- could serve on the base for a certain period until she finds an adequate solution. Worse comes to worse, she could receive an "administrative discharge." Whatever the details of the arrangement are, the default choice should not be to put your child in foster care or face criminal charges.
Hutchison also wouldn't have been in this predicament had she been serving, in say, the Navy. Military women generally get six weeks of maternity leave. But the time period before they can be deployed varies by branch. The Navy and Marine Corps don't require women to deploy for up to a year. The Army, however, is ready to ship you off after four months. Four months of leave isn't enough of a grace period for deployments -- many women are still breastfeeding then. Returning to work after four months might not seem so bad, but it's a huge burden when work is thousands of miles away.
The military's family policies belong in the 1950s, both in their understanding of gender balance and in terms of labor law. The government's requirement for private employers – under the Family and Medical Leave Act – makes companies with 50 employees or more give new mothers 14 weeks, a meager baseline that it fails to follow itself. And after years of prodding, the military finally acknowledged that men take care of kids, too: They get all of 10 days.
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