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US soldier gave birth while deployed in Afghanistan

GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — A U.S. soldier gave birth in Afghanistan this summer after she deployed while pregnant, according to U.S. Army Europe.

Both mother and child, a boy, were immediately redeployed to Germany and are healthy, according to USAREUR spokesman Joe Garvey, who declined to name the soldier. The mother is assigned to the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, a helicopter unit based near Ansbach, that deployed units across Afghanistan this spring.

Army regulations prohibit a pregnant soldier from deploying and require a pre-deployment pregnancy test, which the soldier was given, USAREUR said.

Garvey said neither the soldier nor her command knew she was pregnant before she went into labor in August. He did not say where in Afghanistan the soldier was stationed nor where she delivered the child.

“[S]he did not know nor exhibited signs or symptoms typical of pregnancy during deployment up until delivery,” Garvey wrote in an emailed statement.

Army regulations require all female soldiers undergo a urine pregnancy test 30 days before deployment, and those who test positive are to be referred for further evaluation, according to a statement from the Europe Regional Medical Command.

In this case, an investigation found the soldier was tested and cleared for deployment, Garvey said.

In its emailed statement, ERMC said it reviewed the soldier’s case.

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“The pre-deployment clinical decision-making process of this case was reviewed in accordance with Army MEDCOM quality assurance regulations and appropriate actions have been taken,” the statement read.

ERMC declined to provide any details of the review, citing federal privacy laws. Neither the command nor USAREUR have explained how the soldier came to be deployed after she was tested.

Acknowledgment of the birth comes weeks after a British soldier gave birth at at Camp Bastion in Helmand province. In that case, too, both soldier and command were reported not to have known about the pregnancy until labor began.

The British army, however, does not require a pregnancy test for female soldiers headed downrange, according to media reports, although the incident has prompted calls for such.

The 12th CAB cased its colors in April to deploy the majority of its brigade for tours in Afghanistan and Kuwait. The unit provides transportation, lift and assault capabilities, and many of its assigned soldiers work in maintenance and support positions.

Garvey declined to describe the soldier’s duties or the environment in which she worked.

The brigade commander, Col. Van J. Voorhees Jr., also declined comment, referring all questions to USAREUR public affairs.

Department of Defense regulations have evolved over decades to allow female servicemembers to remain on active duty while pregnant, take leave after birth and return to full duties after.

But the Army prohibits deployments for pregnant soldiers and limits their duties, ruling out work around fuels and strong chemicals, near heavy vehicle exhaust and in situations with excessive vibrations.

Pregnant soldiers are also exempt from regular physical fitness and indoor weapons training, and they are encouraged not to wear heavy loads such as body armor during pregnancy. After 14 weeks, heavy loads “must be avoided,” according to regulations.

Dr. Michael Hughey, an associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and a former Navy reservist, said some women simply miss the signs of their pregnancy, attributing symptoms to other causes. Some women stop having periods in stressful environments, Hughey said, potentially masking one of the first signs of pregnancy. Female servicemembers may also take birth control that suppresses or regulates menstruation and could hide other signs of pregnancy.

“Each one of the pregnancy symptoms can be explained away as being something else,” Hughey said. “So from time to time, clinically, I see people who come in and say they had no idea they were in pregnant, while they were in labor. It’s not a common occurrence, but it happens occasionally.”

beardsleys@estripes.osd.mil
 

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