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Military Urged to Increase Child-Care Facilities : More Soldiers Wearing Maternity Uniforms

United Press International

The look is that of the traditional soldier: jungle green hat and spit-polished black combat boots.

But, between head and feet, the traditional profile differs: Camouflage pants cannot hide the fact that this soldier is five months pregnant.

The armed forces used to require a woman to leave the service if she became pregnant. But that policy was changed in October, 1970, and the number of women combining military service and motherhood is growing.

5,802 Pregnancies in Year

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Last year, 5,802 of the Army’s 79,061 women soldiers became pregnant, records show. The actual number probably is higher because the Army tracks only those births and abortions occurring at military facilities.

Air Force and Navy figures are comparable.

At Ft. Carson, an Army base south of Colorado Springs, 120 of the post’s 1,224 female soldiers--almost 10%--delivered babies last year.

The rising number of soldiers who choose to have babies is affecting the austere appearance of the military base. It now is common to see a soldier in a maternity uniform or a soldier carrying her child to the base day-care center.

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Special Uniforms Provided

And it is affecting the way the Department of Defense spends money--including a record $101 million last year to improve child-care facilities. The Army provides maternity uniforms for all ranks, and morning calisthenics include special exercises for the pregnant soldier.

Expectant soldiers may choose four weeks of maternity leave or take an honorable discharge. Despite growing acceptance of mothers in uniform, pregnancies and childbirth caused 2,037 women to return to civilian life last year.

Many who remain say that they like what the Army offers them as unmarried mothers.

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“The military has come to the conclusion that there is no point in doing anything but welcoming these soldiers because many are good workers,” said Ralph Yoder, a civilian spokesman at Fitzsimons Army Medical Center in Denver.

And, from a financial standpoint, it makes sense, said Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

‘Can’t Afford to Lose Them’

“We can’t afford to lose them (soldier mothers) after two years. We’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars training them, and they’re finally useful,” she said.

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But Schroeder thinks the military needs to offer more to the growing number of military mothers. She said the lack of 24-hour military child care presents a serious threat to readiness, especially overseas.

“When the balloon goes up . . . everyone will be scrambling to find somewhere to put their kids,” she said.

Defense Department officials disagree with Schroeder. They told her that there was not enough need to justify the cost of providing 24-hour day care for military personnel.

But the need is growing. In 1984, there were 115,000 children in military base day-care facilities. In 1985, there were 124,000, and the number has grown to 126,000 so far in 1986.

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A recent spot check of the Fitzsimons Army Medical Center day-care facility disclosed that more than half of the newborns were the children of Army mothers.

4% Are Single Parents

Army figures indicate that almost 10% of the families with children enrolled in all Army child-care facilities are dual military couples. Single parents make up 4% of those with children enrolled in all Army child-care facilities.

Officials said that, with increasing numbers of single parents and dual military couples, most facilities have long waiting lists.

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Schroeder said the military should do more to provide adequate child care, especially for single parents. But she predicts that progress will be slow.

“We as a nation haven’t done much about day care. If you do it in the military, you’re doing something not being done in the private sector,” Schroeder said.

But some believe the Army soon may set the standard for child-care programs.

The Army is increasingly a family-oriented organization, said Fred Odom, public affairs officer at the Army’s military personnel center in Alexandria, Va.

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‘We’ve Had to Adapt’

“We’re a married Army, and there are 15,000 single parents. We’ve had to adapt. We’re trying to bring child-care facilities up to date and to bring in paid professionals to run them,” he said.

Day-care facilities on military installations traditionally have received no federal support. Parents paid the full cost.

In 1982, the General Accounting Office issued a report highly critical of military day care. Only 1% of the Army child-care facilities met the minimum standards, the GAO said.

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The Defense Department immediately began spending money. Uncle Sam now pays almost one-fourth of the cost of day care, and 80% of the facilities meet basic standards, said Suzann Tedesco, program manager for supplemental services for the Army’s Child Development Services in Virginia.

“Our mission is to provide child care that reduces the conflict between a soldier’s responsibility as a soldier and a soldier’s responsibility as a parent,” she said.


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