by J.M. Sylvan
American Reporter Correspondent
New York, N.Y.
December 18, 2008
MILITARY MOMS ABROAD TORN BETWEEN PAY AND FAMILY
NEW YORK -- I hope your Thanksgiving was relaxing and delicious. The holidays can bring tension and grief with them in addition to joy and celebration, especially on military bases for military moms. Did you know that the Army grants six weeks of maternity leave for new mothers and gives four months before she can be sent into combat? This does not give them enough time to establish a good bond with their infants, nor the year to breast feed them suggested by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
This problem is widespread. Ten percent of the women in the military get pregnant each year and 75,000 children of military personnel are younger than 1!
Mothers are offered six weeks' pay six months after birth if they rejoin the forces. This is a huge incentive for the active-duty women who are earning $15,000 - $25,000 a year. Most have children when they are 20 -25 years of age. But everyone involved in these families pays a huge price for this military commitment.
The women tell me they enlisted to protect their country and to advance themselves. There are wonderful childcare programs that provide a stable environment, on the bases, but many of the children don't stay on the base once the mom is deployed. Some 230,000 children have parents stationed in Iraq, Afghanistan or the Horn of Africa (Somalia), areas are considered the most dangerous assignments.
It is a positive sign that there are plans for expanding military child care services, extending family leave after childbirth and increasing mental health services to help families before and after deployments.
I am glad to see that Michelle Obama has taken an interest in military families. Her attention needs to be drawn to these issues so that women in the military can get the support they really need to protect their children and families and to recover and guide them once their brutal warrior role is over.
War's true cost is the suffering of being in the war as well as the suffering of leaving your family behind and returning to them a very different person. I believe that the best way to do this is to stop invading countries and making the decision that women with children have no place downrange.
I stopped by the Army Museum on the base to talk with the director about how I could understand the modern warrior, especially the female soldier. He recommended the movie with Meg Ryan, "Courage Under Fire" as well as "Home of the Brave" with Samuel L Jackson and Jessica Biel. He also recommended I hear Iraq veterans read from their books at the powerHouse Book Arena in Brooklyn.
One evening, I heard Tyler E. Boudreau (Packing Inferno: The Unmaking of a Marine), Joshua Casteel (Letters from Abu Ghraib) and Brian Turner (Here Bullet) speak about their experiences. All three men, one a poet, another collecting his emails sent to friends and family, and the third tracing his 12-year career as a Marine, shared their personal accounts of loss of faith in their missions and the trauma that caused them great moral conflict. They are each powerful, honest writers in their own way.
Read them and draw your own conclusions.
Back "home" in Battery Park City, Manhattan, where I am living until early January, I attended a neighborhood meeting with New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. He gave a PowerPoint presentation on what is being done to assure safety in this area next to the World Trade Center site. He admitted that since the WTC was targeted twice in the past that one would assume it would be targeted in the future. He explained that residents near the site would have to apply for trusted access" clearance. He told of a plan to have the NYPD patrol the PATH trains coming from New Jersey.
Up until this time the Port Authority police have been in charge of security, but residents of this small city-within-a-city reported that they would feel safer having the highly trained NYPD be in charge. The New York Police Department has been policing the subways and conducting random checks of bags and clothes for traces of explosives for quite some time.
Kelly described the lower Manhattan Security Initiative that is being put in place as a net of surveillance like London's Ring of Steel". The plan is to have 3,000 cameras monitoring pubic places surrounding the WTC area. He said 150 of those cameras are being used and monitored by 50 police officers right now. They monitor 1,000 license plates each day. Radiation detectors monitor bridges and tunnels in the area as well. They are ready for nuclear and biological attacks. Air sensors test for early indications of biological attack. He proudly explained that there is nothing like it in the world. I'm glad I went to the meeting to learn why there are often swarms of police cars with lights flashing gathering near the World Financial Center next to my hotel. Kelly reassured us that they were just conducting drills.
I left the meeting feeling less secure and more terrified. It will be a relief to get back to my home in California on January 4th.
It is very interesting to me that Osama Bin Laden wanted to cripple our financial center, while the people who were in charge of the center have crippled our economic power even more effectively. On 9/11 Osama sent people to bring down Wall Street firms and seven years later, the White House and friends finished the job by sweeping away the laws enacted decades before to protect us from a 1930's-like Depression. Deregulation and poor oversight finished the job.
Wall Street is where my neighbors work, for now it is my Main Street. Lower Manhattan is once again at the center of a worldwide storm. Everyone in the neighborhood is wondering what will happen next.
Our apartment house is in the middle of a remodel. Many of my neighbors have purchased condos here with the promise that the refurbishing would be done by Spring '08. Now the halls are a mess of dry wall, the entryway is made of plywood and wires hang from the ceilings; people wonder if it will ever be completed. One fellow in the elevator told me that this happened to him once before, right after 9/11. He couldn't sell his condo in Tribeca for three years.
At that time, dust was everywhere and debris was taken away in huge trucks through the local streets. Once again he won't be able to sell his apartment and there are large trucks waiting for the dismantled apartment innards blocking our parking garage many mornings.
Déjà vu all over again?
I feel empathy for all the people I have talked to in NYC who feel trapped and frightened. I am so glad that I have had family and friends to visit with as I try to make sense of all this upheaval. Thanks to all of you for listening!
This is the first entry in a new column that will appear regularly in The American Reporter. The author holds a doctorate in education and works for the U.S. military.