You might have seen the trending Coffee or Die piece by Maggie Ben-Zvi, wherein she relates the painful experience Melissa Hemphill and her husband endured, when they were cadets at the Air Force Academy, just to simply be parents to their child. The truth is that many more cadets face this every year than one might think … and yet, the good news is that something is being done about it.
As of this writing, if you are a female cadet at any of our service academies and you become pregnant, you have three choices:
1) Disenroll from the academy and potentially incur a financial or service obligation, depending on when you disenroll, 2) Abort your pregnancy, or 3) Sign away parental rights to another guardian and then spend thousands of dollars later to adopt your own child back.
As a graduate of the Air Force Academy, I know of several women impacted by this, including some who felt forced to abort their pregnancies. They are still dealing with the emotional scarring that experience imposed on them. Still others pursued the third option of signing away guardianship and then struggling through the thousands of dollars of debt incurred from the ridiculous (and needlessly administrative) process of adopting your own child back. Some argue that this practice is in place because these cadets are being trained to become military officers and cannot afford to be distracted by parenting (any employed parent in the world will tell you this is hogwash and that chewing gum and walking at the same time is eminently possible). The truth is that other cadets (i.e., in ROTC programs around the country) are also being trained to become military officers, and yet they do not have this ridiculous circus hoop to jump through. Why?
There is no good answer to that simple question, which is why National Parents Organization is joining the Air Force Women’s Initiatives Team and other advocates (like the Service Women’s Action Network) to support the Candidates Afforded Dignity, Equality and Training (CADET) Act.
The CADET Act is a bipartisan piece of legislation sponsored by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). It would end the outdated (and harmful) policies that force female students in America’s military academies to either permanently withdraw from those academies or give up their children should they become pregnant. Obviously, these policies are terrible for children, but they also undermine the future effectiveness and strength of our fighting force — which is now more important than ever.
Under the CADET Act, military academies would treat pregnancies in line with the rest of the military and would require cadets/midshipmen to simply have a Family Care Plan in place (just like they would on active duty). Family Care Plans are well-known and can be seamlessly integrated into the policies of our service academies. Importantly, the CADET Act does all this without changing cadet & midshipmen benefits or responsibilities, and it also does not change current academy admission requirements.
Finally, the CADET Act would also allow these children to still have their fathers active in their lives, which current policies hinder and even discourage. This bill benefits our military, our society and our children — all with minimal administrative impact and without lowering admission standards to our service academies.
Please call your senators and representative to tell them to support the CADET Act now!
Air Force Academy alumni Christian Paasch is affliated with the Virginia Executive Committee and the National Parents Organization.