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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 1/26/10

Soldiers Are Being Forced to Choose Between Their Children And the Military, And They're Paying the Price In Jailtime

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Message Dahr Jamail

In January, U.S. Army officials announced four separate court-martial charges against Specialist Alexis Hutchinson, a single mother who missed her deployment to Afghanistan in early November 2009 when her childcare plans for her infant son, Kamani, fell through at the last minute. Hutchinson was jailed and threatened with a court-martial if she did not agree to deploy to Afghanistan. Kamani was placed into a county foster care system.

Hutchinson, in accordance with the family care plan of the U.S. Army, had been allowed to fly to Oakland, California to leave her son with her mother, Angelique Hughes. However, after a week, Hughes realized she couldn't care for Kamani along with her other duties of caring for a daughter with special needs, her ailing mother, and an ailing sister. She told Hutchinson and her commander, Captain Gassant and the Army granted a Hutchinson an extension so that she could find someone else to care for Kamani. In the meantime, the boy came back to Georgia to be with his mother.

But only a few days before Hutchinson's original deployment date, she was told by the Army she would not get the time extension after all, and would have to deploy despite the fact that her son had nowhere to go. Faced with this choice, Specialist Hutchinson chose not to show up for her plane to Afghanistan. The military arrested her and placed her child in the county foster care system.

"I think they didn't believe her that she was unable to find someone to care for her infant," Hutchinson's civilian lawyer, Rai Sue Sussman, said at the time. "They think she's just trying to get out of her deployment. But she's just trying to find someone she can trust to take care of her baby. She has never intended to get out of her deployment."

The Army put Hutchinson in the position of having to choose between caring for her infant son or deploying to Afghanistan. She chose to care for her son, and is paying the price. Currently, she remains assigned to Hunter Army Airfield near Savannah, Georgia, where she has been posted since February 2008.

Hutchinson is not unique in facing unthinkable choices when it comes to having to choose between family obligations and the U.S. military. While Sussman explained that she has not heard of another case identical to Hutchinson's, where the military arrested a mother and placed her child in foster care, "I've spoken with many soldiers who have told me that that was the choice they were given [to place their child in foster care and deploy, or face court martial]. I spoke with someone yesterday who knew someone who had to place their child with a distant relative to avoid having them being placed in foster care by the military." A soldier in the Florida Coast Guard had just contacted her over a similar situation addition, Sussman said.

"If We Wanted You to Have a Family, There Would Have Been One In Your Duffle Bag."

Army regulations exist to deal specifically with soldiers who have children. "If a soldier can't find adequate childcare, they are supposed to be discharged honorably, according to Army Regulation 635-200," says Sussman, "The regulation in this, Chapter 5, is separation for convenience of the government, deals with this, and 5-8 is the discharge, which is involuntary separation due to parenthood. This is considered a punishment to people in the Army, because the assumption is that people want to stay in the Army, but this is for times when it's not a fit."

"The military is aware that these things happen, and I believe the regulations anticipate child-care plans sometimes falling through, and there are sometimes no alternatives," Sussman added, "They [U.S. Military] recognize the parent does have a duty to care for their child if they can't find a backup for when they are deployed. The military doesn't want people deployed who are distraught about their children."

Kathleen Gilberd, co-chair of the Military Law Task Force, part of the National Lawyers Guild, agrees.

"There is a pregnancy discharge, a parenthood discharge for sole-parents who can't find someone to give total care to their kids, there's a hardship discharge where an unusual family problem that requires the soldier to be with a family in financial crisis or a family member who has a severe mental health problem," Gilberd explains. "But, despite regulations existing to deal with these problems, these are typically ignored by the military. The military will typically say, 'Well, we looked at it, but we can't help you with this.'"

Gilberd says there are common phrases in the military that speak to this: "If we wanted you to have a family, there would have been one in your duffle bag." Or, "If we wanted you to have a wife, we would have issued you one."

"Family is subsidiary to military needs," she adds. "Soldiers hear this from the beginning."

Gilberd is currently working on a case similar to Hutchinson's, but her client is not ready to go public yet. Gilberd says, "The military isn't going to be forthcoming about the reasons soldiers refuse to deploy or go AWOL, but I certainly run into many cases of soldiers struggling with the military while they try to care for their children, or sick family members."

"Helping Children Cope"?

The U.S. Military has, via a large and ongoing propaganda effort, attempted to sell itself as being "family friendly" in an attempt to lure recruits with families to join.

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DAHR JAMAIL He is author of the book Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq. Jamail's work has been featured on National Public Radio, the Guardian, The Nation, and The Progressive. He has received many (more...)
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