I wanted to write this blog because I feel that there is a major perspective missing from most professional discussions on military matters. While I do not like becoming anyone’s punching bag, I’m offering my experience, my opinion, and my story out here with my full name (Jeannette Gaudry Haynie) and rank (Major USMCR) because I believe in the truth and importance of what I write. You may not agree with what I have to say or with the conclusions I draw, but these are my experiences, and I stand by my posts.
Counting the four years at USNA, I’ve been in the Navy/Marine Corps for about 18 years now. Most of my fleet experiences were as the lone female pilot in a squadron, and eventually one of two. While I haven’t been in the military since the Stone Age, I’m no spring chicken, either. My professional record can speak for itself.
Many of these arguments and questions posted in earlier comments and mentioned when topics like these are broached are practical, common sense questions with valid points to them, ones worth debating. And others are not. I hope to address the former and briefly touch on the latter.
I’m basing this blog on what I learned early on in the fleet when I ran into friction from others because of my gender. People say and think some dumb stuff based on biases, preconceived ideas, and rumors, and I saw a fair amount of this over the years. The best way to answer that was to just do my job as best I could and eventually everyone forgot about the whole “girl” thing and I was just another pilot plugging away. This only failed me once, which means only one dude out of about, I don’t know, 5,000, couldn’t get past my gender.
Same for this blog. If I write about my experiences, which are like those many men and women face midway through their careers, maybe we can explore some other options. And maybe when my kids grow up they won’t have to choose either-or for family and ambition. Because I’m a woman, and because of my particular experiences, this means we’ll go through the women-in-the-military questions as well. Which is fine.
Please read the entire post before haranguing me for a sentence or paragraph here or there. And it may take a few minutes, because—as I’ve said before—I am prolific.
So here goes.
A couple basic points:
–I mentioned sabbaticals and greater-than-reserve contributions as some options in my last comment. But I do not want to limit this discussion to those alone. Let’s assume that there is nothing in existing policy that prohibits or discourages dual active-duty families. If this is the case, I contend that we are not doing a good enough job holistically looking at all avenues to facilitate the success of these servicemembers. This is not specifically about my responsibilities, it’s about the responsibilities of a family and a service. If my husband and I have a child while both are on active duty, we are both impacted. Active duty families are more commonplace, and will continue to be so.
–I do not feel that the military “owes” anything. I do, however, believe that the military will face a growing problem with retention of educated, loyal members OF BOTH GENDERS if it does not seek out some alternatives to the all-or-nothing ones currently in place (see above paragraph). This is the backbone of my argument.
–While women tend to bear the brunt of the family work (we can have a deeper discussion about this later), both men and women are affected when starting a family. Everything I am suggesting should be applicable to both genders. Both civilian and military members have increasingly begun to ask why things aren’t different, and why we haven’t worked out some more options. This will not abate anytime soon. And I think that is a good thing.
–Women, unlike men, can’t have children later in life. So is it right that my choice, since I was born female, should be to have or forgo children right at the time in my military career that it matters most? It’s not like I can put it off till I’m 42, despite what women in Hollywood do. Women, too, have ambitions and want to serve their country in unique and challenging ways. Yes, some families make it work, with the help of other family members or special circumstances. The majority do not, despite plenty of trying.
–As a few readers pointed out, the civilian workforce is trending toward more family-friendly policies and options. Telework, flex days, sabbaticals, while not possible in all jobs, are more commonplace now than 10 years ago. The military is not a normal civilian entity (let me say that before someone else does), but that doesn’t mean it can’t take lessons from the civilian workforce.
–Concern over the impact sabbaticals or part-time work would have on the force: I can’t remember off the top of my head which posters asked about this, but the gist of the comments were that we can’t waste billets/boat spaces on part-time people and have an effective force. One word for you here, though: RESERVES. We already do it. People drill 2 days a month and 2 weeks in the summer, and then they go deploy and are actually effective. But as a current, drilling Reservist, I can attest to the inefficiency of some of the ways Reservists are used. We can and should use taxpayer dollars and Reservists’ experience more efficiently. If someone can drill 38 days a year and then go competently into a deployment, why would it be worse if they drilled 76 days a year? Or 114? The point is, we already exercise a similar type of program, and have for years. But that program fails to take advantage of some of the best qualities of its members, and does not attract enough outgoing active duty folks. We can improve on it.
–I’m not advocating a constant sabbatical, nor am I asserting that I can stay in part-time and still be on the cutting edge or tip of the spear constantly. But all-or-nothing is no solution, either. The military loses a wealth of experience in the loss of mid-grade enlisted and officer members (again: of both genders), and will continue to do so, at an increasing rate. Do we “have” to do any of the things I suggest, or think about them at all? Of course not, but we’d be shooting ourselves in the foot. We have an opportunity to make it better, why not use it?
I’m going to use a few quotes from the comments section on my first post and directly respond here.
“I don’t want to get into the discussion on here, but do you really want your kids in child care long enough for you to be a full-time Marine and a mom?” Of course not, but neither do any parents, mothers OR fathers. The idea that my priorities should be different because of my gender is not valid. My whole point is that it makes sense to have better options available to servicemembers both with—and without—families. Those without often realize 5-10 years in that a family might be a good idea, but for females in this position, waiting until retirement is not an option. Neither is it for many men.
“You are basically saying that since they opened the door to you and allowed this disruption to occur, we should make more allowances and disruptions in service to further make life easier for women to be in the military and have families.” I’m going to address the first half of this statement further below, so moving on to the second half: anyone who has been in the fleet knows that men cause their share of problems. I served with both male and female enlisted Marines, and proportionally the men caused more problems than women did. Are DUIs not disruptive, especially when they come on the eve of a deployment? What about domestic abuse, alcoholism, and the 22-year-old who got arrested making donuts on somebody’s front lawn in Oceanside while drinking beer? The month before a deployment?
Pregnancy, which, by the way, is an amazing thing, not something to be cursed at or wished away, is way down there on the list of things that can disrupt a unit about to deploy. What about the SSgt who pops positive two months before a deployment? Or the Marine who steals a car in Okinawa and gets arrested by the Japanese police? The senior officer and department head who gets a DUI? The Marine whose mother gets terminally ill? The conscientious objector that appears right before a deployment? Of all of the incidents and disruptions a unit faces prior to and during a deployment, pregnancy can certainly be considered one, but it’s by no means even among the worst or hardest to get past.
So let’s get past pregnancy as an awful thing that should somehow ban women from the armed forces, or as something that women should avoid at all costs or be ashamed of, heaven forbid.
Yes, there will always be those who abuse the system, just as with any system. But we don’t ban single 21-year-old men from the military, even though they tend to get in trouble easily. The abusers, while legendary in many people’s minds, are actually fewer and further between than one might expect from the discussion.
“So, now the military has already given up spots to women to be trained in most aspects of military life.” This line of thinking has been around for awhile. Given up spots to women? I was ranked first in my winging class, which was how I earned my chance to fly Cobras in the Marine Corps. And I am not unique. Just like men do, women work incredibly hard to get where they want to go. My spot belonged to me because I busted my butt for it.
I jumped around a bit in this post, but the gist of it is that women are not going away, and the changes I’m proposing and problems I mention are not really unique to women, either. Since I’m on page 3 here, I’m going to quit for now. Here’s this last bit in closing:
The vast majority of the comments have been professional, and that is appreciated…and also expected. In reading the comments, I ran across a link to a blog written by Sol, one of the commenters. If you want to read it yourself, click on his name on the comments section and it’ll take you right there. You’ll read some pretty derogatory comments, a personal attack on my sex life and choices. You may need to skip to page 3 or 4 by now, because he made these comments back on the day I made my first post. Here’s one of his thoughts:
“She was pregnant at the time. PATHETIC! Personal opinion but few things disgust me more than to see women walking around pregnant in Cammies.”
This is not conducive to any kind of educated, informed discussion. Rather, it’s a hostile personal attack. But why? Hostility usually hides ignorance, fear, and/or general intimidation. If the above statement reflects the average opinion of single, 21-year-old male Marines (pretty sure it doesn’t), give me one married Marine (of either gender) over 10 of ones who think like that. Maturity, responsibility, and patience tend to increase with parenthood. Let’s not shoot ourselves in the foot. It’s not political correctness, it’s common sense.