Military should meet needs of single mothers
A single mothers' struggles are tough enough to bear, but imagine balancing them with military service. Spc. Alexis Hutchinson had to bear both burdens and had to make a choice.
The 21-year-old was arrested Nov. 6, 2009 after refusing to deploy to Afghanistan, which would have placed her 10-month-old son into foster care. The military has since decided to issue an administrative discharge, demote her to private and will no longer provide her with benefits usually given to military service members and veterans. But this decision is both unfair and preemptive; Hutchinson should not have been punished in this manner.
The military requires single parents to have a notarized family care plan, but even the best-made plans are subject to change. Hutchinson's mother, Angelique Hughes, was supposed to care for her daughter's son. But Hughes had other sick family members to care for, and despite having cared for Hutchinson's son for two weeks, could not provide him with the attention he needed.
Hutchinson was in a lose-lose situation and her decision to protect her son must be respected. As long as it is clear that she is attempting to find child care for him, why can't the military postpone her deployment? If she was willing to deploy once she was sure her son was safely cared for, then the military's decision to demote and discharge her, was clearly an overreaction.
Allegations were made that Hutchinson was using her son as an excuse and that she would have refused deployment no matter what. But if that were the case, it would have been clear when she refused to deploy, even after she found proper care for him. That would have been another matter altogether. But at this stage, she is just a single mother desperate for care for her young son. What happened to innocent until proven guilty?
Since she refused to deploy, the Army promptly arrested her. When this first happened in November, Kevin Larson, a spokesman for the Hunter Army Airfield said, "I don't know what transpired and the investigation will get to the bottom of it. If she would have come to the deployment terminal with her child, there's no question she would not have been deployed." But Hutchinson was still arrested, her infant son was placed into custody in a child shelter and she was released about a week later.
The military should be more understanding about the struggles faced by single parents. Hutchinson did not have to enlist in the army, but she chose to do so. As of 2008, nearly 12 percent of women in the Army were single parents, and so were about 4 percent of men. At least 25 percent of women who died while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan were mothers. To leave the future of these women's children uncertain is not fair to them. Better provisions must be made for single parents and their children.
When Hutchinson enlisted, she knew that she would have obligations to the military. She was willing to meet these obligations, but cirumstances arose beyond her control. Yes, she had responsibilities to the military, but what about her family? To arrest Hutchinson without knowledge of her situation reflects poorly on the military and treating her as a deliberate deserter is unjust. Hutchinson had no option but to desert her station.
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