Pregnant Troops Leave The War

Rowan Scarborough, WaTi – Pregnant Troops Leave The War; Central Command Not Counting

U.S. Central Command is not tracking the number of troops who must leave the Iraq war theater due to pregnancy, prompting military advocates to charge the Pentagon wants to keep secret what could be an embarrassing statistic.

There have been anecdotal reports of unmarried soldiers becoming pregnant in Iraq. One military police unit reported losing three women for that reason. Pfc. Lynndie England, the 21-year-old photographed holding a leash attached to an Iraqi prisoner, became pregnant during an affair with another soldier at the Abu Ghraib prison compound in Iraq.

But overall numbers are hard to come by.

“We’re definitely not tracking it,” said a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, which runs the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I’ve been attending operations briefings for two years, and I don’t think I have heard once that pregnancy has come up.”

As in the case of Pfc. England, pregnancies can be embarrassing to the military. In May 2003, the Marine Corps was forced to bring a Marine back home after she gave birth on a Navy warship in the Persian Gulf. She told superiors she did not know she was pregnant.

During the 1991 Persian Gulf war, the press branded the destroyer tender USS Acadia the “Love Boat” after 36 sailors — 10 percent of the women aboard — became pregnant while deployed in support of Operation Desert Storm.

Of British forces in southern Iraq, 82 women were sent home in 2003 after discovering they were pregnant, reported the London Daily Telegraph, which quoted government numbers.

Pregnancies can hamper readiness by creating hard-to-fill vacancies. A presidential commission in 1992 found that pregnancy was a main reason why the non-deployability rate for female troops was three times higher than for men during the 1990-91 Persian Gulf conflict.

Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, said she repeatedly asked the Pentagon to compile the statistics for the current war, but was rebuffed. She finally filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act in April.

Mrs. Donnelly said the issue is important because of changes in policy and attitudes in the early 1990s that put more women in key jobs, including ones closer to ground combat.

“It’s a factor that you can’t ignore,” said Mrs. Donnelly, a member of the 1992 presidential commission. “The answer I’m getting now is, ‘We have not captured that information.’ If that’s true, it’s irresponsible.”

Retired Army Col. David Hackworth says he has also been rebuffed in attempts to get information on troop pregnancies.

“I’ve been getting serious stonewalling from the [public affairs] folks at the Pentagon,” the decorated Vietnam veteran and syndicated columnist wrote on his Web site. “They treat pregnancy stats with a higher security classification than the number of nukes in their arsenals.”

I’d be interested in seeing the numbers. If the drumbeat gets louder, we might. It’s quite possible that the actual data would be less alarming than the speculation and anecdotal evidence suggests.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Teri says:

    What would be both interesting and impossible to find out would be how many of these pregnancies are deliberate attempts to get out of the soldier’s posting?

    A 10% pregnancy rate is higher than the general pregnancy rate for unprotected intercourse, about one per year. That’s the rate against which contraceptives measure themselves in their advertising.

    I find it hard to believe that contraceptives are not widely available to women in the military, so I have to assume that many of them are getting pregnant because they want to.

  2. James Joyner says:

    I’m sure there are women who deliberately get pregnant to get out of the service. Still, a lot of women in the private sector get pregnant despite the widespread availability of contraceptives, just because they’re not cautious.

  3. jen says:

    Makes for a strong argument against women in combat.

  4. Ralf Goergens says:

    It’s interesting that they use the gender-neutral term “troops” for pregnant women.

  5. Mike says:

    Not tracking the statistics; what a bunch of B.S. – I bet the army knows the color of my underwear. I’ve been in the army long enough to know that the army definately tracks these numbers and it is a problem. It is true that some female soldiers will purposely get pregnant to avoid a deployment or to go home during a deployment; thankfully these “soldiers” are the exception.

  6. Kent A says:

    What a joyous change in the “New Army.” I guess the slogan of “An Army of One” might need to be changed to “An Army of One with you in your bunk.” Dealing with this garbage must just inferioriate a commander’s day. At least infantry grunts have so far been spared this imposition of gender neutrality.

  7. Boyd says:

    Based on the few numbers that they present in the article, it doesn’t sound like there are sufficient numbers to raise any readiness concerns. I speculate that one of the primary motivations behind the “we don’t keep statistics” stance is that statistics can be warped to paint a picture that is in no way representative of reality. Some key points:

    1) No combat troops are women. Period.
    2) The percentage of women in non-combat roles make them a distinct minority in-theater.
    3) Despite any higher-than-average pregnancy rate, when you’re only talking about non-combat troops, and 10% of women in-theater translates to, say, 3% or less of all troops in theater, this seems to be rapidly transforming into a tempest in a teapot.

    I’ve never been big on having women in the military, but this sure ain’t one of the major reasons.