The Love Boats sail again

An­tic­i­pat­ing ex­pan­sion, the Navy’s dilemma is sex at sea

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By Suzanne Fields

Women can do most things as well as men. Al­most no­body any longer dis­putes that. Women can do some things bet­ter than men. Many women thought Don­ald Trump as pres­i­dent would be a dis­as­ter for the fi­nal fe­male as­sault on the glass ceil­ing. It hasn’t turned out quite that way, and women, such as Nikki Ha­ley and Betsy DeVos, have been stars of his new ad­min­is­tra­tion.

But one of the things that women have not done so well is sol­dier­ing, and by the most re­cent ev­i­dence, “sailor­ing” ei­ther. Women, with some ex­cep­tions, may not be cut out for mak­ing war. But this new ev­i­dence demon­strates that they’re uniquely ef­fi­cient at mak­ing ba­bies.

New sta­tis­tics ob­tained from the Navy by the Daily Caller — which had to sue un­der the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act to get them — re­veals that 16 of 100 women afloat are preg­nant and have been re­as­signed from ships to shore duty.

These fig­ures, for the year 2016, are up 2 per­cent from 2015, and hun­dreds more have cut their de­ploy­ments short, at a high cost to com­bat readi­ness, as well as hav­ing deep ef­fects on bud­get­ing, man­power (which of course in­cludes “wom­an­power”). These fig­ures cast a deep shadow over the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s goal of mak­ing the sexes (“gen­ders,” in the pre­ferred po­lit­i­cally cor­rect nomen­cla­ture) equal in num­bers and every other way, which ex­plains why the Navy doesn’t want to talk about the flight of the stork.

Women are re­as­signed to shore duty far more fre­quently than men, 50 per­cent more of­ten by the Navy’s own fig­ures, and this is par­tic­u­larly costly to the Navy as it an­tic­i­pates dra­matic ex­pan­sion un­der Pres­i­dent Trump’s plans to re­store the mil­i­tary to top fight­ing strength. Jude Eden, au­thor of sev­eral books about women in the mil­i­tary and him­self a Marine vet­eran of the war in Iraq, says the train­ing and sub­se­quent trans­fer of a preg­nant woman from ship to shore costs the Navy up to $30,000, and such trans­fers cost the Navy $110 mil­lion in 2016 alone.

“This is an avoid­able cost and ex­pense,” he tells the Daily Caller, “leav­ing a gap for other peo­ple to pick up the work slack.”

Elaine Don­nelly, pres­i­dent of the Cen­ter for Mil­i­tary Readi­ness and a mem­ber of the De­fense Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee on Women in the Ser­vices in the Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion and a mem­ber of the Pres­i­den­tial Com­mis­sion on the As­sign­ment of Women in the Armed Forces un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush, agrees.

“A preg­nancy takes you out of ac­tion for about two years,” she ex­plains. “And there’s no re­place­ment. Every­body else has to work all that much harder. On small ships and sub­marines you re­ally have a po­ten­tial crew dis­as­ter.”

There’s col­or­ful prece­dent for such dis­as­ter. When the USS Aca­dia, a sup­ply ship, re­turned from the first Gulf war in 1991, 36 women in the crew of 450 were trans­ferred to shore duty be­cause they came home in a fam­ily way. A Navy spokesman in­sisted, de­spite per­sua­sive ev­i­dence read­ily at hand, there was no ev­i­dence that any­one broke reg­u­la­tions pro­hibit­ing sex­ual re­la­tions be­tween men and women while on duty. To the con­ster­na­tion and em­bar­rass­ment of Navy brass, the Aca­dia was chris­tened “the Love Boat” by the press, in­spired by a pop­u­lar tele­vi­sion se­ries about high life aboard a cruise ship.

The Navy, like other branches of the mil­i­tary, not so long ago con­sid­ered preg­nancy in­com­pat­i­ble with mil­i­tary ser­vice and women who be­came preg­nant were rou­tinely dis­charged from ser­vice. But that was then, and with the dawn of the all-vol­un­tary mil­i­tary, the ser­vices, in­clud­ing the Navy, pro­vide many in­cen­tives to both men and women as it must re­cruit to fill its ranks. Ben­e­fits to keep the vol­un­teers flow­ing in­clude free hous­ing, med­i­cal care, ed­u­ca­tional and recre­ational op­por­tu­ni­ties, and women get ex­tras: free natal care, day care, coun­sel­ing and spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion for chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties and “other needs.”

Ev­i­dence of the dif­fi­culty of mix­ing the sexes in in­ti­mate sur­round­ings is rou­tinely given short shrift and the find­ings are rou­tinely sup­pressed. The Navy, for ex­am­ple, pub­lishes find­ings from stud­ies called “Navy Preg­nancy and Par­ent­hood Sur­vey. Sum­maries of­ten ran to a hun­dred pages. From 2012 on, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion lim­ited these sum­maries, with bad news, to two or three pages. One civil­ian who worked on them says full sum­maries were writ­ten, but never made pub­lic.

Some sailors have said for years that some women, happy with shore duty, de­lib­er­ately get preg­nant to avoid de­ploy­ment aboard ships. “There do seem to be co­in­ci­dences,” says Elaine Don­nelly. “There’s lots of anec­do­tal ev­i­dence. The in­for­ma­tion is con­sid­ered so sen­si­tive. You just don’t talk about it. It’s some­thing every­body knows oc­curs. You don’t ask, and you don’t tell.”

Be­ing ready for ac­tion has al­ways been a goal of every mil­i­tary in the world, and a knocked-up Navy doesn’t sound ready — un­less it’s with an en­emy that prom­ises it won’t shoot. Suzanne Fields is a colum­nist for The Washington Times and is na­tion­ally syn­di­cated.

Some sailors have said for years that some women, happy with shore duty, de­lib­er­ately get preg­nant to avoid de­ploy­ment aboard ships. “There do seem to be co­in­ci­dences,” says Elaine Don­nelly.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY HUNTER

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