Senior Airman Terran Echegoyen-McCabe and Staff Sergeant Christina Luna were recently photographed breast-feeding their young children. So the Air Guard (and the Air Force) have a problem with breast-feeding? You might say they do--but only if military women do it in uniform, and allow themselves to be photographed, in support of an organization that promotes breast-feeding. It's not the act that landed the women in trouble--it's using their uniform to promote a cause, as a public affairs officer told Air Force Times:
Two Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., airmen who donned their uniforms for a photo session in support of Breastfeeding Awareness Month violated a policy that forbids military members from using the uniform to further a cause, promote a product or imply an endorsement, said Capt. Keith Kosik, spokesman for the Washington National Guard.
“The uniform was misused. That’s against regulations,” Kosik said. “I want to be very, very clear about this. Our issue is not, nor has it ever been, about breastfeeding. It has to do with honoring the uniform and making sure it’s not misused. I can’t wear my uniform to a political rally, to try to sell you something or push an ideology. That was our point of contention.”
Kudos to the Washington guard for getting it right. The regulations cited by Captain Kosik are very clear; military members are not allowed to use their uniform to advance a cause, political candidate, product, or service. SrA Echegoyen-McCade and SSgt Luna would have been just as wrong had they worn their uniforms to a campaign rally, or used their military status to sell a particular item.
Will the Guard stick to its guns? That remains to be seen. The two airmen have received support from hundreds of posters in various on-line forums; some have accused the Air Force of opposing breast-feeding, or even motherhood, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Fact is, the Air Guard, the USAF (and the rest of the U.S. military) have gone to great lengths to accommodate mothers in uniform. Once upon a time, even married women were discharged as soon as they became pregnant; today, single moms are welcome in the ranks, as long as they can find someone to care for their child while they're on duty. As a junior enlisted member in the early 1980s, your humble correspondent was amazed to see unwed moms move into base housing, ahead of military families. Today, single moms are quite common in the armed forces and they benefit from wide range of support services, from free health care, to on-base child care and, of course, paid maternity leave.
Additionally, the military has been quite tolerant of women who breast-feed. If a female soldier, sailor or airman wants to pump breast milk during a break, that's fine, as long as it's done in private and doesn't interfere with their duties. I knew a Captain who did this during break periods at intelligence school in the mid-1980s. While her students were at lunch, she would go into the ladies room and collect breast milk for her infant daughter. Most military members have worked alongside women who developed similar routines. Given these examples, it's hard to say that the military is against breast-feeding.
But it's quite another thing for a woman in uniform to use her military affiliation to promote breast-feeding--as typified by those two members of the Washington ANG. More amazingly, SrA Echegoyen-McCade expresses amazement at the controversy created by her decision to pose for those photos. "I thought I was doing something amazing in my uniform," she told the Times.
There a lot of amazing things military members can do in uniform. Unfortunately, many of them are inconsistent with military rules and regulations. When the two women decided to nurse their children in their BDUs, they clearly crossed the line. We find it hard to believe that both women were unaware that such photographs would create a minor tempest--and land them in trouble with their superiors.
All the more reason to give both women more time to spend with their children, by denying them re-enlistment when their current hitch is up. If SSgt Luna and SrA Echegoyen-McCade believed the ir breast-feeding-in-uniform photographs wouldn't be controversial, then both are a couple of boobs (figuratively speaking) and hardly retention material for the ANG. On the other hand, if they put a personal cause ahead of military standards, they should get the boot as well.
There are thousands of military women who breast-feed their children, and do so without causing a stir, or interfering with their duties while in uniform. Their "cause" is ill-served by a couple of opportunists who decided to raise their T-shirts--and lower their military standards.