Sunday, September 27, 2009
One of the lessons learned from the Bush Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that women can and do serve alongside their male comrades with equal skill and bravery. One of the lessons still in the learning phase for the military is what to do when you include motherhood into the mix.
The military has in large part adapted to women living, working and fighting successfully alongside men in Iraq and Afghanistan, and bringing home their own medals for bravery. Women can now find birth control on bases in war zones and get ultrasounds and gynecological exams. Married couples share trailers.The hardest adjustments are for single mothers who don't have a solid family structure available to fall back on. A year long absence of their only parent can be devastating to children, even after their return.
Motherhood, though, poses a more formidable challenge for the armed forces.
Hanging on to today’s war-savvy, battle-tested cadre of mothers — and would-be mothers — is both crucial and difficult for the Army, say officers, enlistees and experts. So is attracting recruits. Since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001, the number of female Army recruits has declined by 5 percent, a sharper drop than for men. “The Army’s challenge, but also the military’s challenge, is to help service members feel they don’t have to choose between family life and their military career,” said Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth, director of the Military Family Research Institute at Purdue University, an organization supported in part by the Department of Defense.
“They leave when they can’t figure out” a way to do both, she said.
Not long after reuniting with her children in 2005, Specialist Holschlag said, she was sitting alone in her apartment in Iowa when she was struck by a thought she recognized as absurdly selfish: she wanted to go back to Iraq.Nobody ever promised an easy life in the Army, but some prices may be too much to pay.
“All of us that were single parents, who came back to our lives, there isn’t one of us who didn’t say it was easier being in Iraq than coming back and picking back up,” said Specialist Holschlag, 36.
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