Single Parents and Army Deployment.

by Meredith O'Brien


If it seemed as though it was ripped from news headlines, that’s because it was.


A recent storyline on Army Wives dramatized the plight of the military’s single parents – who become single parents after having joining the armed services – and how difficult it is for them to find childcare for their offspring when they’re slated to deploy abroad and can’t take the kid with them.


Given that the Associated Press, citing government officials, said “there are more than 70,500 single parents on active duty in the U.S. military, about 5 percent of all service members,” the issue of single parents in the Army having to find childcare isn’t a teeny tiny problem as the United States continues to conduct wars on two fronts and needs soldiers to fight them. The New York Times also reported that more than 100,000 female soldiers who have served/are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are mothers, adding, “The vast majority are primary caregivers, and a third are single mothers.”


“I couldn’t show up to the tarmac with Maddie in my arms.”


Those were the words of fictional Army Specialist Amber Stiles who was arrested on the Charleston Army post when she didn’t report for her overseas deployment on Army Wives. Her 2-year-old daughter was taken into state custody where officials later threatened to find the girl new adoptive parents because her mother faced jail time for going AWOL. “My mother was going to take care of her in Tallahassee, that’s my hometown,” Stiles told Army Wives’ Claudia Joy Holden, wife of the post commander and a law school student completing her legal degree. “But she got sick and had to back out . . . She’s on dialysis now, three times a week.”


“I tried to find someone in Charleston, neighbors, people from church,” Stiles continued, noting that when she first learned of her pregnancy, the baby daddy took off. When the deployment extension that Army officials had given her to straighten out her childcare situation ran out, Stiles, who’d gone to Florida in a last-ditch attempt to try to locate a caregiver, returned to Charleston and was arrested by military police. “All I wanted was to be a good soldier and a good mother,” Stiles said. “Why can’t I be both?”


Could not agree more. I was on actuve duty as a naval officer for 8 years and my husband was, and still is, on active duty. I had just given birth to my second child in between numerous of my husband's deployments and was told that in order to promote, I would have to volunteer at some point in the near future to go to Iraq or Afghanastan. I was not in an operational billet and my husband was getting ready to deploy again. I made the decision not to go and again was up for promotion a year later, this time pregnant with my third. Despite a flawless military career as a naval officer, I did not promote and was forced out of the Navy. It was a difficult decision for me as I loved my job but I don't regret the decision I made one bit. It is unfortunate that the Navy did not provide me with alternatives so that I could make a career out of the Navy and raise a family. I know I am not alone in the decision with which I faced as many of my peers have been given the same ultimatum. Trying to start a family in your early thirties while having a sucessful military career alongside your husband is not as realistic as one would hope it to be.


The concentration is all on single mothers here, but (as at least some of the articles note) the same happens with a dual-service couple. Just because your husband is deployed doesn't mean you won't be as well and you're left with the same issues that single parents are.
As hard as it is for us to think about, EVERY parent needs a backup plan. Even if there are two of you, you need to play for the awful if distant possibility: where would your children go if something happened to both of you?
I have had three lined up, and it is good, because I think the first one would have to back out due to her life now.
But I also wonder if it isn't time to return to the days of trying to salvage a family. Why is the possible orphaning of a child by deploying all their parents considered an acceptable loss to our society for the good of a WAR!