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09-11-05, 09:26 AM #1
Numbers Game: Is DoD Hiding Pregnancy Statistics?
A Numbers Game: Is DoD Hiding Pregnancy Statistics?
By Ed Offley
Even if she had not become the poster child for the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq, Pfc. Lynndie England would have returned to the United States well ahead of her Army reserve unit anyway.
That's because the 22-year-old soldier became pregnant as a result of a sexual relationship with another soldier while serving at the prison outside of Baghdad.
While occasional incidents such as that of England and an unidentified female Marine who gave birth while serving onboard the USS Boxer in 2003 have attracted news media coverage, the wider issue of female pregnancies in Iraq and other hostile areas remains largely uncovered. In great part, it is because the pregnancy rate among female U.S. military personnel in Iraq remains one of the most closely held statistics from the invasion and occupation of that country.
A DefenseWatch investigation has found strong circumstantial evidence that the number of female military personnel pulled out of the war zone or reassigned from predeploying units is likely far higher than even Pentagon critics say. Analysis of fragmentary information available on the DoD website DefenseLink and background data provided by DoD to a Pentagon advisory group last year suggests that at minimum, the number of pregnancies in the region has exceeded the number of combat injuries sustained in the two years since the invasion itself.
Neither the Defense Department, U.S. Central Command nor the four armed services can, or will, say with precision how many female military personnel have been evacuated from Iraq or removed from units preparing for deployment because of pregnancies. For the past two years, anecdotal evidence has emerged that the rate of pregnancies among deployed military personnel has negatively impacted unit readiness and operational effectiveness in Iraq. However, military spokesmen for the most part say they are unable to provide statistics or reports on this controversial topic.
In fact, the Pentagon and DoD take strides to explain that they themselves are avoiding any meaningful examination of how pregnancies may hurt operational readiness.
"We're definitely not tracking it," a Central Command spokesman told The Washington Times when asked about pregnancy rates among Iraq-based troops last year. A Marine Corps spokeswoman responding to a DefenseWatch request for pregnancy rates last week, said: "The Marine Corps does not have readily available the number of female Marines who are non-deployable as a result of pregnancy nor the resulting affect [sic] their pregnancies have had on deployed or pre-deploying units."
DefenseWatch made specific requests for information on pregnancy rates from the four combat services with mixed results. An Army spokeswoman explained in response to the request for information: "The Army does not maintain a compilation of pregnancy data and is currently coordinating with multiple offices to obtain it." An Air Force spokeswoman queried on pregnancy rates failed to respond.
Under current policy, female personnel in a deployed unit who become pregnant are reassigned out of Iraq, and those assigned to units preparing for overseas duty likewise are transferred to non-deploying units for the duration of their pregnancies and post-partum periods, usually for up to a year in total. Military personnel experts have long argued that significant numbers of pregnancies can have a strong negative impact on a military unit's morale and effectiveness.
However, using available information, DefenseWatch has been able to construct a profile on the situation:
A 1992 presidential commission on women in combat revealed from closely held DoD statistics that the year after Operation Desert Storm, the services reported the following annual pregnancy rates:
Army 11.9 percent
Navy 13.4 percent (enlisted only)
USAF 8.1 percent
USMC 8.7 percent (enlisted only)
Throughout the 1990s, follow-up studies showed that "on average 15 percent of female personnel became pregnant each year," said Elaine Donnelly, a commission member who currently serves as chairman of the nonprofit Center for Military Readiness, which is critical of many DoD policies concerning women in combat. "I suspect that it's the same today," said Donnelly, whose organization has been pressing the Pentagon under the federal Freedom of Information Act to release current pregnancy statistics for more than a year.
Extrapolating those percentages against estimated personnel deployment statistics for Iraq and Southwest Asia last year, one can arrive at the following rough figures for mandatory reassignments and unit losses due to pregnancy:
In October 2004, there were 170,000 U.S. military personnel serving in Iraq and support bases in the region, including:
U.S. Army (all components) 101,550
U.S. Navy 17,000
U.S. Air Force 17,000
U.S. Marine Corps 34,950
Taking the service percentages for female personnel as a whole, on average the following number of female personnel were deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004:
U.S. Army (all components) 14,826
U.S. Navy 578-1,700 (this range reflects a low end, the 3.4 percent of USN service-wide who are female and a high-end estimate of 10 percent of ship crew being female)
U.S. Air Force 3,332
U.S. Marine Corps 2,097
Assuming that the rate of pregnancy among deployed female personnel falls within the range defined above (the 1992 percentage for each service and the estimated annual rate of 15 percent for the U.S. military as a whole throughout the 1990s), one arrives at the following estimates of pregnancies in Iraq for 2004 alone:
U.S. Army (all components) 1,764-2,223
U.S. Navy (enlisted only) 77-86 (low range) to 227-225 (high range)
U.S. Air Force 1,377-2,550
U.S. Marine Corps (enlisted only) 182-314
The total estimated pregnancies for female U.S. military personnel stationed in Iraq and regional support bases in 2004 alone thus stands at a low of 3,400 and a high of 5,312.
In contrast, the Pentagon reported last year that in the first 12 months after the invasion, only 2,998 soldiers had been evacuated from Iraq for combat wounds and injuries. Over the same time frame, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs William Winkenwerder testified to Congress last year, Central Command also evacuated 18,004 personnel from Operation Iraqi Freedom for non-combat health reasons, presumably including losses due to pregnancy.
The Defense Department Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS), a volunteer panel that advises the Pentagon on policies and matters that affect the recruitment, retention and well-being of military women, indirectly addressed the "non-deployability" issue during its 2004 conference in Washington.
Military officials last year provided some information to DACOWITS on pregnancies among female personnel as part of their reports involving non-deployability issues, although each service's reporting template used differing terms and measurements that precluded a service-by-service analysis of actual pregnancy numbers. Still, these partial figures did not materially contradict or challenge the estimates for Iraq compiled by DefenseWatch.
A Navy briefing paper to DACOWITS in 2004 stated that the service on Jan. 14 of that year had experienced only a .486 percent rate of pregnancies involving enlisted sailors on sea duty, or 1,819 female sailors (this was service-wide and not limited to units assigned to the Central Command AOR). The figure also seemed to confirm a continuing problem since the Navy in 1990 had also reported that 1,145 pregnant women on ships that year had required reassignment to shore facilities. Also, a Center for Naval Analysis report provided to DefenseWatch by the Navy noted that in 1999 the service had experienced an 11 percent loss rate for female sailors on sea duty due to pregnancies.
On the other hand, the U.S. Air Force provided DACOWITS with 2003 figures showing that 4,858 female officers and enlisted personnel service-wide had been rated as "non-deployable" that year due to pregnancy, a 1.3 percent rate that is far below the 8.1 percent rate reported in 1992. No explanation of the disparity was available.
And the Marine Corps pregnancy breakdown for DACOWITS was also far below the 1992 rate: According to a fact sheet provided to the panel last year, only 430 female Marines, or 4.0 percent of the female end-strength, were non-deployable in 2003, way down from the 8.7 percent rate the service reported in 1992.
Army figures provided to DACOWITS for 2003 were even more imprecise, listing only 627 pregnancy non-deployable troops out of nine combat units in Iraq that had female soldiers in the ranks.
The DACOWITS report, while avoiding specific attention to the impact of pregnancies on unit readiness, did recommend a more uniform reporting methodology from the armed services on this issue: "Data collection and analysis should include information on the reasons for non-deployment and evacuation, as well as statistics on non-deployable members and early returnees by rank and gender," the report concluded.
Donnelly said the difficulty in obtaining precise statistics on how pregnancies impact combat readiness is the result of the military's unwillingness to face up to a real problem. She cited the Army in particular for a stubborn "mindset" that refuses to recognize that mixed-gender training and combat support units have created ongoing problems with discipline, morale and leadership.
"This is another issue that has never been adequately studied," Donnelly said. "The Army doesn't want to know the answer so it doesn't want to ask the question."
In the meantime, the issue of wartime pregnancies remains a topic of low priority for both the DoD and the mainstream news media.
Ed Offley is the Editor of DefenseWatch, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send Feedback responses to email@example.com.
09-11-05, 10:06 AM #2
If this isn't one of the better arguments to bring forward in the ongoing battle to keep women out of combat, I really dont know what is.
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