The Washington Army National Guard is looking to help make policy changes so that women do not have to choose between having children and progressing in their military careers.
When a soldier becomes pregnant in the Army she is given the option to leave the military under honorable conditions or become non-deployable for the duration of her pregnancy. During pregnancy, soldiers cannot continue physical training or handle chemicals and firearms and have to work half-days in their third trimester under current policy.
Policies like these are present across branches and impact any female service member of child-bearing age who is or wants to become pregnant while in the military. The policies can delay promotions or disqualify troops medically for schools required for a new rank or job.
Entrance into some military schools depends on a physical test, regardless of whether the program has a physical component — and while soldiers who have deployment-related injuries can have the assessment waived, pregnant soldiers cannot.
To confront this issue, the Washington Army National Guard has partnered with the National Security Innovation Network to start a “Navigating Pregnancy and Promotion” information gathering challenge that launched June 24 and will run through July 22.
NSIN’s mission is to build a national network that generates new solutions to Defense Department problems. They are looking to gather information and insights to provide policy recommendations that would eliminate, or at least alleviate, a woman’s choice between having children and advancing in their careers across the military.
“This challenge exemplifies the niche that NSIN fills inside the DoD innovation ecosystem: taking a serious, real-world problem and inviting a totally different perspective from non-traditional problem solvers like students, civilians, and Service Members,” said Morgan Plummer, NSIN Managing Director.
“What’s particularly exciting about the work we’re doing with the Washington Guard right now is the way we’ve been able to integrate multiple NSIN programs to identify the best possible solutions.”
NSIN has already gotten some feedback through their challenge. One respondent was Sgt. Sharon Gold, who has been in the Army National Guard for almost six years and just signed for an additional six.
She plans to stay in for 20 years and has found herself in the unfortunate situation where she is forced to choose between having children and progressing in her career.
“No amount of planning will make it possible to effectively schedule the training required to promote to E6 [SSG],” she told NSIN. “Getting pregnant even when you are healthy is difficult in general but especially for soldiers. The stress of our jobs alone makes it difficult for us to get pregnant and stay pregnant.”
And Gold said planning around getting pregnant is even harder — there’s no way of knowing that you’ll get pregnant at a specific time and be able to follow that with training. She’s already tried this approach and was not able to get into the NCO Education System program twice.
“No matter how much I improve as a Linguist (my MOS is 35P) or as a leader (I manage training at a state level) I will stay a SGT for the next 6 years because I want to have 2 kids,” she said in a response to the challenge.
“The only solution to this I can think of is an Exception to Policy (ETP) for pregnant soldiers to be allowed to participate in NCOES training,” Gold said. “Currently, when you become pregnant no matter what as a soldier you are mandated to have a temporary medical profile.”
To register and participate in the challenge, visit https://innovatedefense.net/pregnancy-promotion.