In August 1995, retired Navy officer Larry Di Rita wrote a satirical article imagining a Navy captain trying to cope with politically correct mandates. “Reflections on a Naval Career” was edgy, but the Naval Institute’s magazine, Proceedings, published it anyway.
The fantasy portrayed several outlandish scenarios, including a shipboard nursery for the children of crew members. An uproar ensued, lighting up the magazine’s Letters section for several months. Di Rita was accused of being misogynistic, in the same way that critics from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on down have scolded Fox News host Tucker Carlson with allegations of being anti-women.
The Proceedings article was fiction, but pregnancy policies that Carlson questioned are real. His commentary did not disparage military women; Carlson questioned the priorities of Pentagon leaders. Why are they making maternity flight suits so that pregnant women can fight our wars?
President Biden touted the idea during a recent Women’s Equality Day event, and the Air Force Human Systems Division is pursuing a three-phase high-priority project to quickly field a one- or two-piece flight suit to accommodate baby bumps in battle.
Military women should not be punished for motherhood; it is a beautiful thing. But we need to discuss whether aviation maternity gear will benefit military moms or improve flight operations in aviation communities.
The 1992 Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces, on which I served, received testimony and extensive research on many issues, including tactical aviation. Experts in aeromedicine highlighted occupational hazards that were and still are unique to female aviators during pregnancy.
Retired Rear Adm. Hugh Scott, a physician with extensive experience on fitness-determining medical boards, summarizes maternal risks in military aviation:
During early pregnancy, a developing embryo/ fetus undergoes complex morphological changes that can be detrimentally altered by high intensity vibration, noise, and cosmic ionizing radiation at high altitudes. High noise intensity has been associated with development of sensorineural hearing loss, prematurity, and intrauterine growth retardation. Overexposure to short and long wave radiation has been cited for worsened pregnancy outcomes, including a higher rate of congenital malformation, low birth weight, infertility, and spontaneous abortion.
In the extremely dangerous carrier flight deck “workplace,” crew members wear thick earphones to protect their hearing during hours of shrieking jet-engine noise. An unborn child in the same environment has no protection against high-decibel noise. Nor is there any way to avoid jet fuel fumes, radiation, or excessive vibration, especially in helicopters.
According to an aviation advocacy group, about 10 percent of female Air Force pilots are pregnant at any given time, and 400 were affected by flight restrictions last year. Officials recently relaxed flight restrictions on pregnant pilots, allowing (but not forcing) them to fly non-ejection aircraft from 12 to 28 weeks of gestation.
The Air Force is investing in maternity flight suits for female pilots who are, by regulation, taken off flight status early in their pregnancy. How will these changes improve operational readiness? Unlike commercial aviation, combat aviation is not just another career opportunity.
As Prof. Kingsley Browne reported in his book “Co-Ed Combat,” small military units and squadrons do not receive replacements for members on maternity leave. Absences can stretch to almost two years before and after childbirth. Morale and mission readiness are affected because others in the unit must pick up the slack.
The RAND Corporation reported in 2019 that the services spend over $5 million to train an F-16 pilot ($5,618,000), almost $6 million ($5,961,000) to train an A-10 driver, and almost $11 million ($10,897,000) to train an F-22 fighter pilot. According to a recent GAO report, female personnel are 28 percent more likely to leave the service than men.
Officials may decide that high-dollar investments in female pilots who are more likely to leave early are worth it. However, civilians and members of Congress responsible for oversight should be able to question Pentagon priorities without military leaders blasting them for doing so.
Someone should ask politically correct Pentagon officials why they keep claiming without evidence that “Diversity is a strategic imperative.” The mantra has become a conversation-stopper on any issue involving women since 2006.
In 2011, the Defense Department’s Military Leadership Diversity Commission (MLDC) replaced the military’s honorable tradition of non-discrimination and recognition of individual merit with a “new diversity” concept that is not about individual rights; it’s about group rights. The multi-volume MLDC report recommended percentage-based diversity metrics (quotas) in all branches of the service, enforced by chief diversity officers approving promotions at all levels.
The report also admitted that the new diversity management “is not about treating everyone the same. This can be a difficult concept to grasp, especially for leaders who grew up with the EO-inspired mandate to be both color and gender blind.”
The Navy is obsessed with “diversity.” A 2017 “roadmap” organizational chart showed five diversity councils, working groups, and boards, plus two more for the Marine Corps. The recent 141-page Task Force One Navy (TF1N) report uses variations of the word “diversity” 338 times.
Most Pentagon officials deny the existence of gender diversity quotas, but retired Admiral Michelle Howard, who served as vice chief of naval operations and on the Biden Defense Transition Team, has been open about her goals. In 2015, Howard declared the Navy should be 25 percent women, and the same 25 percent ratio should exist on every ship and in every squadron in the Navy. How would that work?
The Navy has not put childcare centers on warships – yet – but with 25 percent quotas to meet, the idea is not far removed from maternity flight suits for flight-restricted pregnant aviators. If a Navy diversity-crat announced plans for carrier kindergartens, would civilians who questioned her priorities be treated like Carlson was? Overwrought attacks launched during the Carlson kerfuffle indicate that civilians should be asking more questions, not less.