December 27, 2009: When the U.S. Congress found out about the new U.S. Army policy of punishing soldiers who cause a pregnancy, while in a combat zone, there was an immediate response. Four senators notified the army that this policy would have to be dropped, because it compromised the rights of the soldiers in question. The army has to listen to Congress, because Congress approves, usually with many politically inspired modifications, the defense budget, and must approve any promotions of senior military officers. So the army backed down. The military is constantly having politicians urging them to do things that have nothing to do with military readiness for combat. Some of these suggestions are actually harmful. The military has to choose its battles carefully, when it comes to harmful policies being pushed by politicians. When push comes to shove, the politicians win. ItÂ’s the law, and no one wants to change it.
It was about two months ago, in Iraq, that the general commanding Task Force Marne (a division sized unit in northern Iraq) issued an order making it a court martial offense if an American soldier got pregnant. The soldier who did the impregnating could also be court martialed (everyone in the U.S. military has their DNA on file, so finding daddy is not a problem). Normally, getting pregnant gets the soldier sent home immediately. So far, seven soldiers (including three males) have been charged with violating the new policy.
This is not a new problem, and has been a growing problem in the last two decades. Sometimes the soldier sent home pregnant, promptly gets an abortion, and is not sent back overseas. In extreme cases, female soldiers have gotten pregnant before being sent overseas, declared the pregnancy once there (and not happy with the more austere lifestyle), is sent back, and gets an abortion. Most female soldiers despise their sort of behavior, taking their oath of service seriously. But "goldbricks" and "malingerers" have been a fact of life in the military for thousands of years.
But there were several things going on with the current situation. First, the pregnancy gets the soldier out of Iraq, or Afghanistan, without any penalty (other than having to raise the kid, a not inconsiderable cost.) Second, the pregnancy is evidence that at least two soldiers were violating the prohibition against sex in the combat zone (although that prohibition is rarely enforced). But there was a third cost; the army loses the services of that soldier for their remainder of their tour. It was this factor that caused the general to impose the pregnancy penalty. Too many essential troops were being lost to pregnancy. Many other commanders have quietly complained of this situation, but this is the first time a senior commander used the authority they had to do something about it.
The problem exists in Afghanistan as well, but another solution is being tried. Last year, the U.S. Army in Afghanistan removed the prohibition on sex between male and female soldiers. There are 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and about ten percent of them are female. So far this year, about fifteen percent of these female troops have had pregnancy tests, and a few percent of the female troops have gone home because they were pregnant. Ending the prohibition was done with the understanding that the troops would exercise care, and avoid pregnancy. That has not been a hundred percent effective. It was feared that, if the Iraq solution proved more effective, it might end up being applied to Afghanistan as well, and other overseas areas where American troops serve on hardship (twelve month or less) tours.
Since the 1990s, the army has been big on clean living (or whatever you want to call it) in combat zones. No booze, no sex and not cavorting (you know what that means) with the locals. But with most of the troops in combat zones being young and single, things happened. Some couples got caught. Commanders got tired of having to punish (usually with an Article 15, which is just short of a court martial) troops for "unauthorized fornication." So now it is, if not authorized, not likely to get you punished (aside from the occasional unexpected pregnancy), at least in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, in Iraq, while the army backed down on punishing troops who got pregnant to get sent home, no such mercy is being shown to soldiers caught committing adultery, or having sex with subordinates. It is believed that the politicians will have a more difficult time protecting that sort of behavior. Although, when you think about it, adultery and screwing subordinates is what a lot of politicians do.