Friday, June 01, 2012

Boobs on Display

Two members of the Washington Air National Guard are in hot water--and deservedly so, from our perspective.

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.              



John Burgess said...

If the two were, say, on a lunch break, grabbed their babies, and sat out in the park breastfeeding them, while in uniform, and a random passerby (or even a random photo-journalist) were to take the same photo, then it would be fine. They didn't set it up; they weren't promoting a cause.

It is solely because they were promoting a cause while in uniform that the ceiling falls in.

This makes logical sense. It does not make emotional sense, which is why people are annoyed (well, beyond just not knowing the facts and imputing others).

I do have to raise an eye at your acceptance of pumping breast milk in a restroom, though. Why is it being shunted into a room rife with bacteria? Is expressing breast milk akin to voiding one's bowels or bladder? Surely, the military can do better than that. It has, in fact, done better than that with 'milk rooms', whether formally or informally so designated.

fmfnavydoc said...

Question....Did either one of them think about talking with their NCO about this before the photo was taken? Did their NCO or officer talk to them about promoting a cause while in uniform?

I remember the days of single mothers being shown the door because they were pregnant. And I was always accommodating to women that needed to take care of their child during the day while they were at work. At one duty station, we had nursing mothers use the break room (we had a sign made up for the door for when they were in there nursing or using the pump, so they had some privacy).

The military has become very accommodating to just about every group in the last 30 years, yet there seem to be a few out there that don't have a bit of common sense and ask questions about situations like the Airmen have placed themselves in.

Ed Rasimus said...

It has all been downhill since the "maternity BDU" was designed. That is an ultimate oxymoron.

Your worst nightmare said...

Not only has the Air National Guard stood its ground, but both of these two women were removed from short they were fired. They could just as easily changed clothes before the shoot and nothing would have been said. They didnt and now they have to live with the results according to the Air Force Times Newspaper. And Ms.Scott the head of their group was also terminated because she clocked into work, and then ignored all her assigned tasks for the day while using a company van as her personal taxi to promote her agenda with the media. She then lied to her employer about what she did. A stupid mistake all round and now three women lost their careers for it.