EXTERNAL CRAZY: Military Style

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a comment responding to the funny and truly talented Myndi Shafer’s hilarious blog post about random strangers feeling free to comment on (and touch!) the pregnant belly. She asked to hear more about my experiences as a pregnant active duty military person…and, as we all know, pregnant ladies should get whatever they want, especially in their ninth month. So, this one’s for you, Myndi!

Here’s the story I told about being pregnant in uniform:

I was pregnant with my first when we lived in South Korea, stationed at the US Army base in Seoul. I was on active duty and so was my husband (both Navy). By policy, since tours in Korea were generally just one year, pregnant service members were reassigned back to the States at 20 weeks. But—lucky me!—we were on a TWO year assignment, so I got to stay. Which meant that I was the ONLY woman in uniform with a huge round belly by month eight! The Korean ladies were always putting their hands on my belly to predict the sex of the baby: “Oh! So BIG. That means BOY!” (It was a girl, BTW. So much for hands on predictions.)

So one day I was walking over to where my husband was going to meet me after work. I had seen a bunch of big black sedans lined up at the headquarters to take all the Generals somewhere. NOTE: If you’re in uniform and you see a general officer’s car approaching, you have to stop to salute it. But I knew if I kept walking, I wouldn’t have to stop because my back was to the cars. The truth was, I was having major Braxton Hicks contractions and didn’t want to have to double over while trying to snap out a salute. BUT because I have this sign on my forehead that says “ask me for directions,” someone stopped me just as those cars were approaching. The guy, who wanted to know where the base exchange was, had stepped by me just enough so that I had to turn to answer him. I could see the four star flags on the front of those black sedans approaching. Damn, I couldn’t get out of it now. So while my belly squeezed the ever livin’ breath out of me, I popped at least six salutes. I think I saw a grin on every single one of those generals’ faces as they saluted right back. To be fair, I was a truly funny sight in my “maternity battle dress uniform” (yes, there is such a thing…the military’s infinite wisdom is a whole ‘nother story), which was a tent-like camouflage uni with boots (had to get the hubster to tie my boots every day since I couldn’t even SEE them). When the cars were gone all I could think was: Jeez, and I have another month to go!

Here’s a pic of me and the hubster at Seoul Tower, Namsan, Seoul, Republic of Korea in 1998. I WAS pregnant at the time but not yet wearing the maternity uniform. That was actually a nice feature of the Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) we were required to wear, I managed to “hide” under that overblouse till month six or so.

I can’t find the picture of me—large and in charge—in front of a combat rigged HumVee wearing the maternity tent, but you can get the general idea from this picture (from TheStir).

For a discussion of military uniforms and style, here’s Anne Brigg’s post from Ruly on what the different services wear and how hard it is to be uniform in uniform. Of course, I favor the Navy, hands down. And I think Katie Couric does too, check her out fawning over Admiral Mike Mullen in Ruly’s pics. 🙂

In 1975, the military changed their policies about pregnant service members. Prior to that date, women who became pregnant were automatically discharged from all services. Following that date, even though there were restrictions about where they could be assigned (both in terms of location and job activity), pregnant women could continue to serve. Interestingly, however, maternity uniforms were not designed and authorized for women until several years later. I particularly like the headline on this 1977 article from the Toledo Blade: Navy Accepts Facts of Life, Authorizes Maternity Uniforms. We tend to forget how much of a trail has been blazed for military women since that time.

This excellent article by a curator of the Smithsonian Institution’s Armed Forces History collection contains a thoughtful discussion of the military’s policy history and the unanswerable dichotomies of pregnancy for servicewomen:

“Even in these times of increased military awareness, with so many of our service members deployed or called to active duty, the complications of being both pregnant and in the military aren’t readily visible to civilians.”

But hopefully, I’ve shed a little light and humor on the subject for you–civilian or no. Do you have any pregnant-at-work stories (for the men reading–of your wives or co-workers)? If you worked outside the home, did you find it tough to reconcile your pregnant self with your work self? If you didn’t work outside the home, did you find yourself doing things in a subsequent pregnancy you would never have done in your first pregnancy (carrying a 25 lb. toddler around, for example?) Does the idea of a pregnant soldier or sailor make you uncomfortable?

One last pic. Here’s my Band of Sisters in Navy and Marine Corps ROTC summer training…I’m second from right. Because we’re all sisters-in-arms, right?

The Warrior Class

Four Things the Press Gets Wrong About the Military and One Thing They Get Right

“Rise up, warriors, take your stand at one another’s sides, our feet set wide and rooted like oaks in the ground.”

Tyrtaeus, Spartan poet

I live in a military town, spent thirteen years in the Navy, and am married to a retired Naval Officer who now works in the Defense industry. So when military folks (service members and their spouses and families) get put up on pedestals for their sacrifice and service it makes me uncomfortable because, to me, people in the military are just people. There are good ones and bad ones and boring ones and ones who should be running the world–not because they’re power hungry but because they’re really that organized. But I see why the pedestal thing happens…or I’ve come to see why after reading articles like this one.

There are whole segments of the population who know nothing about the military and have only seen soldiers and sailors on TV.

And of course our military is in the news recently.

Here’s Brig Gen Norman Ham, [quoted in this Associated Press article on Yahoo!] commander of the 440th Airlift Wing, in an interview reflecting on the mixed outcome in Iraq.

“The world isn’t a perfect place. We try to help where we can and do the best we can,” Ham said. “We have limited resources to go everywhere and do everything for everyone, but we do the very best we can and that’s what we’ve done in Iraq — the very best we can.”

I don’t aim to change people’s opinions about any of this, but maybe I can shed a little light on military people in my corner of the world. At the risk of opening up a can of controversy, here are my

Four Things the Press and Popular Culture Get Wrong About the Military:

1. People in the military are not actively seeking the next big conflict. It is our butts on the line any time troops or military might gets committed to combat, plus increased conflict means increased deployments and separations from our loved ones. Corollary: There is an idea floating out there that if you eliminate the military, you eliminate war. To me that’s like saying if you take away the police, you eliminate crime.

2. We are not all Special Forces Operators. Every job is important and can be every bit as dangerous. For example: the deck of an aircraft carrier is considered one of the most hazardous places in the world. Corollary: Spec Ops people are people too. Highly trained, skilled, physically fit people.

3. We do not all come back from conflict with PTSD. This is in no way to invalidate the true pain of service members and their families affected by post traumatic stress. Everyone is affected in some way by combat and military service, but that effect is not always negative. Many young people join the military for an opportunity to see some of the world. Some join for the educational opportunities. All, I think, are changed forever.

4. We do not wear our uniforms all the time. Though sometimes it feels like we do. And sometimes, like during training and conflict scenarios we actually do. But I know I was as fond of girl clothes as anyone else whose job was not the military.

And One Thing the Press Actually Gets Right:

Homecoming is as romantic as it looks…for about thirty minutes then readjustment and reality sets in. My oldest daughter was two and a half when my husband left on a deployment and three when he came back. We weren’t really sure how she was going to react to seeing her Daddy again. What did happen: as soon as she saw him she ran up and jumped in his arms. She wouldn’t let him put her down for at least a half hour. And of course he was really OK with that. When we got back to the house, however, she wanted nothing to do with him, she didn’t even want him to read her a bedtime story. We had to slowly work him back into our daily routine.

So I’m not saying you shouldn’t thank military men and women for their service. I’m just saying that when you see someone in uniform in the airport or on TV, recognize that they are not that different from you. Not an alien race or even a warrior class…they’re just people getting the job done. They get on with things so you can too.

(All photos courtesy Navy.com and Navy.mil The ships pictured are the guided missle destroyers USS PORTER and USS COLE.)