Saturday, June 02, 2012

Photo Of Active Duty Air Force Mothers Breastfeeding In Uniform Triggers Controversy, Sends A Wimpy Message To Prospective Adversaries

Update June 15th: Crystal Scott, the program director for Fairchild-based breastfeeding support group Mom2Mom who organized the photo shoot with the two breasfeeding Air Force moms, has been fired from her job as an x-ray technician. Her employer was Schryver Medical, a mobile medical services company in Spokane. The two Air Force moms have not been subjected to any formal military discipline.

Sgt. Terran Echegoyen-McCabe (L); SSgt Christina Luna (R)
A picture of two active duty U.S. Air Force females breastfeeding their kids in public has triggered controversy -- and a reproval from their chain of command.

It began with a campaign by the Mom2Mom support group at Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane, WA. to promote World Breast-Feeding Week in August. The two Air Force members, identified as SSgt. Christina Luna and Sgt. Terran Echegoyen-McCabe (with twins), were photographed in uniform breastfeeding their kids, and the picture was uploaded to the website BreastfeedinginCombatBoots.com. There was a variety of reaction; while many praised the women for rebutting negative biases and stereotypes about public breastfeeding, some considered it inappropriate for the women to be photographed doing it in uniform. Some of the strongest backlash comes from senior female officers who state that they worked hard to be equally accepted, and this publicity stunt undermines their efforts.

As a result, Washington Air National Guard public affairs spokesman Capt. Keith Kosik said the photos were a violation of regulations against using the uniform to promote a civilian cause, noting that rank, title, and uniform are to be used for official purposes only. He emphasized that the issue is not about breast-feeding in uniform. He said the women are not expected to face disciplinary action but that the incident warranted a formal response for educational purposes. One reason for the lack of disciplinary action is the fact that there's no specific policy banning breast-feeding in uniform.

Another Air Force spokesperson hastened to reassure the public that the Air Force strives to adapt to the needs of working mothers. "The U.S. Air Force is supportive of our breastfeeding mothers and installations are continuously adapting to meet the needs of working mothers to offer suitable areas for their parenting needs," Air Force spokesperson Captain Rose Richeson told Yahoo Shine in an email. "The Air Force has standing instructions enabling mothers to feed their children, particularly when they transition back to work following maternity leave." That includes allowing them to pump during the day, and providing private areas for breastfeeding in the Child Development Centers, she said, including the one at Fairchild Air Force Base.

Meanwhile, Sgt. Echegoyen-McCabe said she did one interview before she was ordered to stop talking to the media by her superiors. In that one interview, Echegoyen-McCabe explained, "I'm proud to be wearing a uniform while breast-feeding ... I have breast-fed in our lobby, in my car, in the park ... and I pump, usually in the locker room. I'm proud of the photo and I hope it encourages other women to know they can breast-feed whether they're active duty, Guard or civilian."

But there are prospective national security issues. Blogger Debbie Schlussel expresses concern about how this photo op will be perceived by America's potential adversaries. She writes:

If I were Al-Qaeda’s chief of propaganda, I’d e-mail the photo below far and wide to show how weak and silly America is. The woman on the right is at least a tad modest. The one on the left -– nursing twins -– is clearly an exhibitionist ho, and more important, there is absolutely NO way she can be nursing and raising twins and serving our military at the same time. Someone loses, and its probably the Air Force AND those kids. Everyone’s shafted but she gets her slutty exhibitionist fix satisfied. Their names are Terran Echegoyen-McCabe and Christina Luna, and they deserve to be named so that they can be shamed by Google forever (and constantly seen by weirdos with the sick fetish they just satisfied). Sadly, they also shame our brave U.S. men on the front lines.

Although some of Schlussel's rhetoric is a bit over the top, she's got a point. It makes our military look more like a social welfare agency rather than a state-of-the-art fighting force. Hardheaded leaders like Vladimir Putin and Hugo Chavez are less likely to be shocked and awed by America's military power. If Putin gets the idea that our military is cute and cuddly, it could provoke him to rash action. Wars have begun over miscalculations.

Other Public Reaction (note that most objection is not to public breastfeeding, but to the portrayal in uniform):

patriciaebey June 2nd 10:30 A.M. (Gothamist):
As a female veteran, I am offended. I busted my ass to be treated equally and these jokers just set back women's progress in the military about 100 years. Thank you, girls. (P.S. I breastfed my children, too.)

oxyrrhynchus_megacephalon June 2nd 11:30 A.M. (Gothamist):
the military does not ban breastfeeding. it doesn't even ban breastfeeding in uniform. why can't people understand why wearing a uniform while doing something intentionally attention-getting and unrelated to the military's mission is being frowned upon by the military?

zerstorer335 Jun 1st, 2012 9:20:17 PM (Military.com):I have no problem with breastfeeding in public. I have no problem with breastfeeding in uniform. It's breastfeeding in uniform in public that I do have an issue with. Most notably, if you look at the pictures, you'll see that both of them have their undershirts un-tucked. Per AFI 36-2903, ONLY when in a maternity uniform may the undershirt be un-tucked. Then there's the whole undone ABU coat issue (AFI says it may be "removed in immediate work area as determined appropriate by local leadership"). Plus there's the gem of them being OUTSIDE without their caps on. WHAT PART OF BREASTFEEDING MEANS THEY CAN'T HAVE THEIR HEADGEAR ON WHEN THEY'RE OUTSIDE? So we have an NCO breaking about 3 uniform regs for these pictures. And, personally, no offense intended to reservists but a Senior Airman (E-4) who wears the uniform one weekend a month, two weeks a year, is NOT the person I want going to the media to talk about what is appropriate in uniform. Personally, if they were simply in an area like an office or a locker room where having partially disassembled uniforms isn't as much of an issue, I don't have a problem. But, I didn't think about the whole using the uniform in support of a non-official cause issue. That's another problem.

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