WASHINGTON -- A House subcommittee is reviewing several bills that would ease the hardship caused when military duty separates parents from their children.
"Over the past several weeks, the news media have barraged us with heart-rending stories of mothers with babes in arms torn from them as a result of military orders to deploy in Saudi Arabia," said Rep. Beverly B. Byron, D-Md., at a House subcommittee hearing yesterday.
Byron, who chairs the subcommittee on Military Personnel and Compensation, called the hearing to review several bills.
One controversial measure, authored by Rep. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., would allow a single parent with a child younger than 19 years of age to be exempted from deployment abroad. In the case of military couples, one of the two parents could remain at home.
"The bill is in line with policies from other wars, be it World War II, be it Vietnam, be it Korea," said Boxer, citing cases of young fathers who were deferred from the draft.
Boxer's bill would allow the Department of Defense to choose which of two parents in a military couple was most crucial for combat deployment.
But Byron warned that Boxer's bill, along with a similar measure introduced by Jill Long, D-Ind., could put U.S. military operations at risk. Byron said she is sensitive to the "enormously difficult personal choices" posed by Operation Desert Storm, but that restrictive legislation could have negative consequences.
About 16,000 single parents are now deployed in Saudi Arabia, Byron said, as are an estimated 1,200 military couples. Their departure would have "a very difficult morale effect on the soldiers left behind to do the fighting," she said.
Byron has introduced legislation that would apply only to the mothers of newborn children. In the case of women on active duty, the bill would prohibit the deployment of a new mother for six months. The restriction also would apply to mothers with children younger than 6 months who are reservists or National Guard members.
Defense officials objected strongly to the Boxer measure and similar bills, saying ample provisions exist to accommodate emergency situations.
The bills would hurt morale, military readiness and equal opportunity, said Christopher Jehn, an assistant secretary of defense.
He warned that the legislation would create two classes of military personnel and "turn back the clock" for service women struggling to make advances.