Army General Who Implemented Pregnancy Policy Responds to Truthout Report

The Army general commanding US military personnel in northern Iraq who implemented a controversial policy last month that said female soldiers who become pregnant, and the men who impregnate them, could be court-martialed and sent to prison issued a lengthy response to Truthout explaining his order following the publication of our report on the matter Monday.

In an email, Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo said he appreciates “the discussion about one aspect of a general order I have applied here in the combat zone of Iraq. The true intent of my directive cannot be easily understood from one or two brief articles, so I would like to clarify my rationale for the directive.”

Cucolo added:

In this 22,000 Soldier Task Force, I need every Soldier I’ve got, especially since we are facing a drawdown of forces during our mission. Anyone who leaves this fight earlier than the expected 12-month deployment creates a burden on their teammates. Anyone who leaves this fight early because they made a personal choice that changed their medical status — or contributes to doing that to another — is not in keeping with a key element of our ethos, “I will always place the mission first,” or three of our seven core values: loyalty, duty and selfless service. And I believe there should be professional consequences for making that personal choice.

My female Soldiers are absolutely invaluable, many of them holding high-impact jobs that are often few in numbers, and we need them all for the duration of this deployment. With their male counterparts, they fly helicopters, run my satellite communications, repair just about everything, re-fuel and re-arm aircraft in remote locations, are brilliant and creative intelligence analysts, critical members of medical teams, in all areas of logistics and personnel support across this Georgia-sized piece of Iraq north of Baghdad, and much more. Since I am responsible and accountable for the fighting ability of this outfit, I am going to do everything I can to keep my combat power — and in the Army, combat power is the individual Soldier.

To this end, I made an existing policy stricter. I wanted to encourage my Soldiers to think before they acted, and understand their behavior and actions have consequences — all of their behavior. I consider the male Soldier as responsible for taking a Soldier out of the fight just as responsible as the female Soldier who must redeploy.

To ensure a consistent and measured approach in applying this policy, I am the only individual who passes judgment on these cases. I decide every case based on the unique facts of each Soldier’s situation. Of the very few cases handled thus far, it has been a male Soldier who received the most severe punishment; he committed adultery as well. Though there have not been any cases of sexual assault, any pregnancy that is the product of a sexual assault would most certainly not be considered here; our total focus would be on the health and well-being of the victim and justice for the perpetrator.

I do not expect those who have never served in the military to completely understand what I have tried to explain above. Recently I was asked, “Don’t you think you are treading on an intensely personal topic?” As intensely personal as this topic might be, leaving those who depend on you shorthanded in a combat zone gets to be personal for those left, too. This addition to a standing general order is just a small part of our overall effort to foster thoughtful and responsible behavior among our Soldiers.

Proudly serving you,
Tony Cucolo
Major General, US Army
Commander, Task Force Marne
Tikrit, Iraq

As Truthout intern Yana Kunichoff reported Monday, “becoming pregnant, or impregnating a soldier, while assigned to the Task Force Marne (Area of Operations), resulting in the redeployment of the pregnant soldier” is a violation of the policy in effect since November 4. It applies to “all United States military personnel, and to all civilians, serving with, employed by, or accompanying” the Army in northern Iraq.

Current military policy requires that a pregnant soldier be taken out of Iraq within 14 days. Married couples serving together are allowed to live together, but if the wife becomes pregnant that too is a prosecutable offense under the new policy.

Earlier Tuesday, Cucolo told ABC News he does not “ever see myself putting a soldier in jail for this.”

On Tuesday, four senators sent a letter to Secretary of the Army John McHugh said the order was “deeply misguided” and demanded that it immediately be rescinded.

“We can think of no greater deterrent to women contemplating a military career than the image of a pregnant woman being severely punished simply for conceiving a child,” says the letter, signed by Senators Barbara Boxer, (D-California), Barbara Mikulski, (D-Maryland), Jeanne Shaheen, (D-New Hampshire), and Kirsten Gillibrand, (D-New York).

“Although Major General Cucolo stated today that a pregnant soldier would not necessarily be punished by court-martial under this policy, we believe the threat of criminal sanctions in the case of pregnancy goes far beyond what is needed to maintain good order and discipline,” the senators wrote. “This policy could encourage female soldiers to delay seeking critical medical care with potentially serious consequences for mother and child.

“This policy also undermines efforts to enhance benefits and services so that dual military couples can continue to serve. We can think of no greater deterrent to women contemplating a military career than the image of a pregnant woman being severely punished simply for conceiving a child. This defies comprehension.”