Some of the more heart-tugging pictures and stories to come out of the Persian Gulf war are of military parents - usually called-up reservists or National Guard members - who must leave young children behind, including infants, to be cared for by others. Presently stationed in the gulf are 1,200 couples who have young children and 16,300 single parents.
This situation has given rise to several bills in Congress to change the practice so that, as one lawmaker put it, children of military parents are not put in danger of "becoming orphans."The measures would exempt single parents, one of two parents, and mothers of children under 6 months from duty in a war zone.
Several members of Congress and the Pentagon object. While acknowledging that deferments are given to parents in a draft, they say that in an all-volunteer military, people should know what they are getting into.
In addition, they argue that such special treatment would affect the status of women in uniform, that parents should not get special favors at the expense of others, and such special policies would adversely affect the armed forces in carrying out their missions.
All of those objections have merit. But so does the concern about families. In none of the objections are the needs of children mentioned. Certainly, when one joins the military, the potential risks are known. But this should not preclude the Pentagon from having an assignment policy that takes the welfare of children into account.
The military already tries in some degree to accommodate parents when both are in uniform and gives consideration to their offspring and their individual assignments. Special concern in a war situation would be merely an extension of a policy that already exists to some degree.
After the tragic case of the Sullivan brothers in World War II - all five, serving on the same vessel, died when their ship was sunk - siblings were not assigned to the same ship or combat unit. The military survived that type of policy. It would also survive the policy contemplated in the bills now before Congress.
Despite the objections of the Pentagon, the mere appearance in Congress of such bills already is causing military leaders to "review" their parental policies. That's usually a sign that changes will be made. And they ought to be.