First woman to fly in combat is targeted for saying females dodge deployments by getting pregnant over ten years ago

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American news and opinion site Salon apparently has it out for seasoned A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot and US Senator Martha McSally, going so far as to dig up comments made in an academic paper written over a decade ago.

Roger Sollenberger, an Austin, Texas-based writer for Salon who has also been published by BuzzFeed and other outlets, went back as far as three presidents ago to bring up McSally’s take on a quite serious topic at the time: the possibility (and often rather well-known tactic) of female troops becoming pregnant to avoid deployment or other duties.

McSally -who retired from the USAF as a colonel and was the first woman to fly in combat, published an academic article to the Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy in 2007, titling it “Women in Combat: Is the Current Policy Obsolete?”

In the article, McSally (who was working on a second graduate degree at the time) discussed policy shift propositions that would encourage women to weigh the desire to have children with their role in the US military and mission readiness.

In short, the idea touched on the notion that duty to country came before the desire to raise a family.

“The military must foster a culture in which military women understand that it is not appropriate to get pregnant whenever they desire,” McSally wrote. “Instead, women need to realize their duties take precedence. They must take measures to prevent unplanned pregnancies and plan for pregnancies to occur only when they are in non-deployable situations.”

McSally discussed the vague nature of commanders having to determine “intent” when it comes to female servicemembers becoming pregnant, be it before a deployment, mid-career or at any pivotal point when the needs of the military come first, even if the servicemember is “burned out.”

“It is the author’s recommendation that young service women, especially, need to be counseled about the foolishness of entering into a lifetime commitment (motherhood) in order to be released early from a four- or six-year commitment to serve in the military,” she wrote.

Sollenberger, it appears, took focus on McSally’s commentary about changing policies.

“The Department of Defense should rescind the policy that allows servicewomen to skirt their commitment to the military due to pregnancy,” McSally wrote. “It must also create a climate where commanders are encouraged to counsel military women on their responsibilities to not plan a pregnancy during deployment vulnerability times or when serving in jobs where pregnancy would prohibit them from conducting their primary duties.”

While quite some time ago, it is not hard to remember what was taking place at the time of the article’s publication: the “Surge” campaign of the Iraq War had kicked off, sending massive numbers of troops into harm’s way after over three years of brutal trial-and-error counterinsurgency. Operation tempos were heightened in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and units were seeing morale issues, prompting a larger recruiting influx as retention became more difficult.

One needs not look deep within the vast sea of information online to find accounts of such a phenomena, ranging from female troops admitting they became pregnant to avoid deployments or simply did not factor such a contingency in as they prepared to face the stressors of combat conditions.

Furthermore, the notion of servicewomen becoming pregnant to avoid combat became a staple concern and topic in the Global War on Terror, discussed from the lowest enlisted levels on up.

“Single, pregnant, junior enlisted personnel were considered the most problematic because the pregnancies were less likely to be planned and more likely to create other problems, such as financial and child-care problems, that impacted the unit,” McSally wrote, discussing the challenges faced during her time as a squadron leader.

But McSally also understood that women are not always voluntarily impregnated. Unfortunately, sexual assault is an unfortunate matter that has plagued the US military.

McSally herself testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2019, admitting she was raped by a senior officer.

At the time, the then-senior officer argued that the military should not allow double standards to any service members, and felt that equality was challenged by pregnancies, which could create the “perception or reality” of an actual double standard.

Despite a stern tone, McSally recognized that some servicemembers have been able to be single parents while remaining operationally capable.

“Single parents and dual military parents are obligated to have a plan for care of their children in event of deployment and many manage their duties and parenthood admirably,” she wrote. “Servicewomen should not be allowed to avoid their service obligations merely because they become pregnant.”

McSally, who has traditionally been and continues to oppose abortion, felt that accidental pregnancies should be treated in the same military manner that injuries or illnesses are.

“The author realizes accidents may happen, and units should deal with them just like unplanned injuries and illnesses. There is a fine line between creating an ethos that addresses this issue seriously and not encouraging women to have abortions or endanger the health of their babies for fear of potential career implications,” she wrote.

Speaking on the matter some time later at Duke University, McSally felt giving temporary leave was “ludicrous” and affected morale in such a way that it reinforced a negative stereotype for women in service.

“You know, go work at Walmart if you want to do that,” she said. “Nothing against Walmart.”

Senator McSally has yet to respond to requests for comment, though a follow-up article may be in the works should she reply.

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