How Well Does the Military Treat Single Mothers?

The case of Alexis Hutchinson is resolved, but debate continues

This article is from the archive of our partner .

On Thursday, the military decided not to court-martial a single mother who skipped deployment to Afghanistan to avoid placing her child in foster care. Alexis Hutchinson, formerly an Army cook, received an other-than-honorable discharge. Her rank has been reduced to private and she will most likely lose her benefits.

The 21-year-old Oakland native arranged to leave her 10-month-old son with her mother when she learned she was deploying to Afghanistan. After caring for the boy, Hutchinson's mother decided the arrangement was not sustainable. Hutchinson claims she could not find an alternative caregiver and that the military told her she should put her son in foster care. Army officials, however, claim she had no intention of deploying in the first place.

Though the issue has been resolved with less drama than initially expected, it has sparked debate over the intersection of child care, parenting, and an increasingly overextended military that has occasionally resorted to arguably discriminatory scare tactics. A look back at the three-month-long discussion surrounding Hutchinson's dilemma:

  • No Wonder the U.S. Is Known for Inadequate Maternity Leave, writes The American Prospect's Gabriel Arana, when its own military ships women to war before they're finished breastfeeding. The Army deploys women as little as four months after they give birth, Arana writes, which "isn't enough of a grace period for deployments--many women are still breastfeeding then. Returning to work after four months might not seem so bad, but it's a huge burden when work is thousands of miles away."
  • Case Exemplifies Non-Family-Friendly Military Culture, argues Dahr Jamail at AlterNet. He quotes Kathleen Gilberd, co-chair of the Military Law Task Force, as saying, "Family is subsidiary to military needs. Soldiers hear this from the beginning." Gilberd goes on to describe "common phrases in the military that speak to this: 'If we wanted you to have a family, there would have been one in your duffle bag.' Or, 'If we wanted you to have a wife, we would have issued you one.'"
  • The Draft's Beginning to Make More Sense for Strollerderby's hannahtm: "Clearly, soldiers cannot simply ignore their deployments with no consequences. But it does make me see clearly the problems with our 'all-volunteer' army. I certainly have no interest in seeing my loved ones (or myself) compulsively sent overseas, but if the military is stressed so thin that children could have to be placed in foster care, it seems that it's only right for us all to bear the brunt of a war our tax dollars support."
  • It's Wise to Question the Details, warns the active servicemember behind the ROK Drop blog. "Single parent soldiers are required to have family care plans in place in order to prove to their command that someone will care for their kids if they deploy... These care plans are very extensive and are reviewed during command inspections usually about every 6 months. Before the inspections and whenever someone would turn in a family care plan, I would call the specified guardian in order to verify that the plan was valid. This is standard procedure to verify family care plans." Since Hutchinson's mother backed out, the blogger argues, "obviously SPC Hutchinson did not do a very good job of ensuring her family care plan would be adequate in case of deployment."
  • Not Just Military Women Who Are Overburdened, Brandann Hill-Mann argues at Focusing on Hutchinson's mother, who was already caring for three sick and special-needs relatives when she attempted to take her grandson into her home, Hill-Mann observes that "we as a society assume that women are going to provide care for family members who suddenly have increased needs... If for some reason we can't or won't provide that extra care, then we are somehow failures as women--even though the world around us isn't designed to offer the resources or support that we need to provide that care."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.