By TIM HIPPS
U.S. Army Installation Management Command
Staff Sgt. John Nunn lay in a crumpled heap on his hotel room floor the night of Feb. 20 in Santee, California. Nunn was severely stricken with the flu and wondering whether he’d be well enough to take part in the 50-kilometer race walk competition of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials the following day. A trip to his third Olympics was in peril as a body temperature over 100 degrees, chills, aches and burning eyes left him in the fetal position.
“I remember lying in bed, tears were coming down,” he said, “and I was thinking, ‘I have worked so hard for this. I have devoted so much time and effort, and the Army has backed me. This can’t end this way.'”
It didn’t. Nunn overcame his illness to win the Team Trials and earn his third Olympic berth with a personal-best time of 4 hours, 3 minutes and 21 seconds.
Having attained the 4:06:00 Olympic “A” standard when he won the 2015 U.S. 50K Race Walk National Championship with a 4:03:42 clocking in November, Nunn called USA Track and Field officials the night before the competition to see if he could start the race, drop out and still be named to the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team.
“They said ‘You have to finish. This is not a question,'” Nunn recalled. “We’re sorry you feel this way, but you have to finish.'”
Nunn was on the starting line Feb. 21 for a 7:15 a.m. start to a 31-mile race in which one foot always must be in contact with the ground.
Nunn is a Soldier in the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, or WCAP, a detachment of the U.S. Army Installation Management Command’s Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation division based in Fort Carson, Colorado. The program allows Soldiers an opportunity to train full-time in an Olympic sport, and participate in the Pan American Games, World Championships, Olympic and Paralympic games while maintaining a professional military career and promoting the U.S. Army to the world.
“It definitely was a race where knowing that I had the support of the Army was a huge factor that helped pull me through,” Nunn said. “I was like, ‘You know what? I know I’m sick, but we’re going to go take care of this now.'”
Before the race began, Nunn explained to civilian training partner Nick Christie that he had the flu and would attempt to walk with him for 30 kilometers to help Christie obtain the Olympic qualifying standard, but then he likely would slow down and simply try to finish.
As it turned out, the race went exactly opposite.
Nunn, 38, and Christie, 24, walked side-by-side for the first 28 of 40 laps around the 1.25-kilometer circuit. They were both on pace to hit the Olympic standard. On Lap 29, Christie surged about five meters ahead of Nunn, but not for long. When Nunn retook the lead one lap later, Christie dropped off the pace and finished a distant second in 4:22:31 — 16 minutes off the standard.
“The first 25K was so hard,” Nunn said. “Everybody was saying that I looked so relaxed, but my stomach was hurting so bad.”
By the 30K mark, Nunn said his body “went numb.”
At that point, he and Christie had lapped the field three times, so he told himself “If you end up passing out, stop to throw up, or your body crashes, you can still pull second,” Nunn recalled.
Christie, on the other hand, had nothing left.
“Everything looked good, and all of a sudden it’s what happens in 50K and marathon: the body just gave out and I crashed badly,” Christie said.
Nunn sensed finishing the 50K was within his reach, and decided no flu or stomach bug was going to stop him.
“I started pushing it,” Nunn recalled. “And when Nick fell off of me, I felt really bad for him. I was hoping he would stay with me for another 10K or so and then let adrenaline take over for the last five laps and get the standard, but he fell off and I ended up lapping him.”
Nunn lapped Christie a second time during the final 15 kilometers. By then, with victory and a third Olympic berth virtually in hand, the Soldier-athlete needed another source of inspiration.
It came from U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program Chief Willie Wilson, a retired command sergeant major who has supported Nunn throughout most of his Army career, cheering Nunn on from the sidelines.
“I heard him say something to the effect of ‘the unit’s behind you and the Army’s proud of you,'” recalled Nunn, whose gait grew stronger as the race grew shorter. “He said Soldiers would be excited to know what was about to happen.”
“It put things very much in perspective,” Nunn said. “This is so much bigger than just me. I’m not out here racing for some [small-time] sponsor that I convinced them to let me do it. This is the United States Army and they believe in me enough that they’ve invested time and money and emotion and other people into this.”
Wilson saw the day before the race that Nunn “was really struggling with stomach problems and temperature — very flu-like symptoms.”
“But he showed up [Feb. 21], still not feeling the best, but determined to give it his all by representing the Army, IMCOM and the World Class Athlete Program as a professional Soldier,” Wilson said. “He had a phenomenal performance. He persevered and worked through struggling with cramps and pain. What an example of resiliency.”
Wilson sensed that Nunn knew he was walking for something larger than himself.
“I think he took his situation and refocused off of the pain and problems that he was having and started focusing on, one, wanting to represent the Army and the United States at the Olympic Games in Rio, and, two, he realized that he was out there for something a little bigger than just Sergeant Nunn.”
In the end, Nunn walked his fastest time ever.
“I remember rounding the back turn on the last lap,” Nunn recalled. “I looked down at my watch and I was walking faster than what I had been going, and I was like ‘Man, you can get a personal best — just go get it.’
“Yeah, I freaked out Saturday,” Nunn said. “But when the race started, it was ‘Okay, it’s time for business. I don’t care how you feel or what’s going on, you have to do everything that you can to make sure this goes right.'”
A recently revised Army directive spells out the basics of breastfeeding and lactation support, but gives commanders and supervisors leeway to balance mission requirements with the unique needs of Soldiers at their installations.
As individual commands begin to create their own policies in line with the directive, they are looking to one installation’s policy as a model.
Even before there was an Army directive, the breastfeeding policy at Fort Bliss, Texas, was created by Staff Sgt. Amanda Marion, then the 1st Armored Division Medical NCO and the Pregnancy and Postpartum Physical Training (P3T) Program NCOIC.
“It’s like any other regulation, field manual or directive. You can never take away from the regulation, but you can always add to it. Even though our policy came out before the directive, it is still in line with it and adds to what it already states,” Marion said. “I think that if others were able to sit down and take the time to establish an installation policy and look over all the federal and state laws that apply, it would benefit their Soldiers and the entire force as well.”
A model for the rest of the Army
With Army maternity leave now extended to 12 weeks, more Soldiers will be able to breastfeed successfully, said Robyn Roche-Paull, a registered nurse, internationally board-certified lactation consultant, author, Navy veteran and founder of the organization Breastfeeding in Combat Boots.
“I am a lactation consultant at a military hospital, so I see what it’s like for these moms to come back at six weeks,” Roche-Paull said. “At six weeks, you’ve barely got it together, and now you have to throw in pumping and work and all the rest of that, too? Your body is not ready. So 12 weeks is fantastic. Moms who can get to that point breastfeeding tend to have a better chance at breastfeeding successfully and for a longer duration.”
With more Soldiers breastfeeding, Roche-Paull hopes more installations will follow Fort Bliss’ lead in setting up the framework to support them when they return. Fort Huachuca, Arizona; Fort Drum, New York; and Fort Bragg, North Carolina, have all contacted Roche-Paull for help as they write their policies, she said, and she hopes others will do the same.
Breastfeeding in Combat Boots, a nonprofit organization committed to advocating, informing and supporting all active-duty, Guard and Reserve personnel who are breastfeeding while serving in the military, praises the Fort Bliss policy on its website for being comprehensive and clearly outlining the responsibilities of everyone from the garrison commander to the breastfeeding Soldier.
“The Fort Bliss policy outlines commander and supervisor responsibilities, and that in and of itself is very important, because each level of leadership has a different piece to play,” Roche-Paull said. “What the commander can do to support these Soldiers is different than what an NCO can do and what the mom can do for herself – each plays a part in making this successful. So outlining what is expected at every level of leadership and why – that is fantastic.”
Roche-Paull also praises the Fort Bliss policy for bringing everything together. Information on deferment from deployment, breastfeeding in uniform and lactation support can be found in one place. The 22-page policy even includes sample pumping schedules for both eight- and 12-hour workdays.
“I love Fort Bliss’ pumping schedules,” Roche-Paull said. “Showing where those breaks should be and how it would fit into a workday, it takes the guesswork out of it for everybody. These are the reasons this policy is so, so wonderful. It’s all here. Everything you could possibly need is right here in one document.”
Responding to Soldiers’ needs
Marion created the policy in response to problems Soldiers in the P3T program were facing. Some were being shamed by other Soldiers for breastfeeding in public, and many were having difficulties securing a place and time to pump, she said.
“To help out the Soldiers, veterans and civilians of our community, something needed to be put in writing,” Marion said. “I wrote the original installation breastfeeding policy and then shared it with a nurse practitioner and a labor and delivery officer, both international board certified lactation consultants at William Beaumont Army Medical Center, as well as the hospital’s chief of midwifery services. They were starting to write a policy for the hospital, so we created this breastfeeding task force on the installation. We would email, and every couple of months we would sit down together to go over things. Then we finally finalized the policy, brought it upstairs and got it signed.”
Before the policy was in place, Soldiers were simply told to figure it out on their own, Marion said, and were not given the tools they needed. But now, almost every brigade within the 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss has a lactation room or is in the process of setting one up.
“Within four months, we were getting calls from units all over the installation saying, ‘Hey, I am setting up this room, can you come take a look at the area and let me know if it’s suitable?’” Marion said.
Building a lactation room
The Army directive requires a private space – other than a bathroom – for Soldiers needing to breastfeed or express milk. The space must have locking capabilities and be within a reasonable distance of a safe water source. It needs to have a place to sit, an electrical outlet and a flat surface other than the floor on which to place the pump and other needed supplies. But that is the bare minimum, Marion said.
Many NCOs and officers are inquiring about other ways to make sure their breastfeeding Soldiers feet comfortable, Marion said. And because the room she created at the 1st Armored Division Headquarters building serves as an example, she went above and beyond to make sure every detail of the room would serve that purpose.
There is a refrigerator for Soldiers to store their breastmilk and a microwave with a sterilizer for bottles and pump parts. Extra outlets line the walls in case the Soldier wants to play music or plug in a laptop. Cushy seats, pillows, blankets and a footstool help her get comfortable. The lights can be dimmed, and portraits of Soldiers breastfeeding in uniform hang on the walls, which are painted a calming neutral color. The door is clearly labeled when in use so she doesn’t worry about being disturbed. There are hooks to hang up her ACU top and a mirror so she can make sure her uniform is squared away when she is done.
It might sound silly, Marion said, but anything that has a calming effect and reminds the mother of her baby will facilitate a faster let-down, meaning it will help her milk start flowing and result in a shorter pumping session.
“We want to try to take away that temporary stress that they may feel – the ‘I need to hurry up and get this done’ and other stresses they may have,” Marion said.
There are bottles of water to help keep the Soldier hydrated and granola bars and other snacks to provide those extra 500 calories she needs each day to keep up her milk supply. The room is also stocked with disposable nursing pads, lanolin nipple cream, reading material and disinfectant wipes.
“I tried to make it very welcoming for the Soldiers and as comfortable as possible,” Marion said. “All that stuff doesn’t need to be in there, but a lot of the individuals creating rooms here on the installation are taking that extra step.”
Affording Soldiers time
The Fort Bliss policy is very flexible when it comes to the time allowed a Soldier to pump, because it depends on so many factors, Marion said. It depends on the age of the child, the quality of the pump being used and how the Soldier responds to it, as well as the distance of the lactation room from her workspace. She may even need to “power-pump,” which means to pump more frequently within a certain time period to boost her supply – a technique that may be especially useful as she prepares to leave her baby and go into the field.
“She will need to work with her supervisors and keep them informed,” Marion said. “She may need to sit down with her NCO and let them know, ‘Hey, my supply is starting to diminish, and I need to do this thing called power-pumping.’ NCOs – especially young male NCOs – may feel embarrassed, but they need to create an environment where the Soldier feels comfortable talking about it, because it may be a difficult subject for her as well.”
Roche-Paull also emphasized the importance of NCOs’ support. They need to educate themselves and be there for these Soldiers, she said, because their actions could make or break a mother’s ability to breastfeed.
“I hope NCOs realize how important their support is for these Soldiers,” Roche-Paull said. “It is something so simple that they can do – just making time. It’s no more than the time someone would take to go smoke, honestly, if you add it up. And it goes such a long way toward mom and baby’s health and the morale and the readiness of the unit.”
If a Soldier is not afforded enough time to pump, her milk supply will diminish, and she may face some serious medical issues, Roche-Paull explained. If she does not express milk often enough, she may develop painful lumps in her breasts called clogged ducts, or even mastitis, an infection that requires emergency medical care. She would then have to be taken out of the fight for days, Roche-Paull said, and it could all have been avoided if only she had been given the time she needed.
“I think the big thing here is that NCOs, they are the ones Soldiers are going to go to first,” Roche-Paull said. “Though having support from the top down is obviously great and makes the overall climate more conducive to breastfeeding, really the ones in the trenches who are going to run interference for you are your NCOs. So if they are supportive, if they are going to make sure Soldiers are given the time to pump and not given a hard time about it, that sets these Soldiers up for success.”
In the field
Lactation support in the field is another area in which the Fort Bliss policy shines. The Army directive requires Soldiers be given the same amount of time to pump in the field in order to maintain the physiological capability for lactation, but commands are not required to provide a means to store the milk.
The Fort Bliss policy, on the other hand, encourages Soldiers to make arrangements with their command to store the breastmilk in the unit refrigerator – if there is one – or bring a refrigerator themselves, if possible. They may even put the milk in a cooler and send it back to garrison with the food transportation crew. The child’s caretaker can then pick up the milk at the dining facility on post or at another predetermined location.
“We don’t tell the Soldier she has to ‘pump and dump’ because, for one, it is wasteful. It is heartbreaking, especially if she has a hard time pumping anyway and gets just enough for her baby to eat the following day,” Marion said. “But we do mention in the policy that the Soldiers should think about that and try to establish a stash in their freezer and a good supply before they go to the field – just in case no accommodations can be made and they have to pump and dump.”
‘We have come so far’
Though field exercises and deployments still present challenges, breastfeeding Soldiers have much more support than they did a few years ago, Marion said.
In 2010 when Marion had her daughter, she was working in a clinic that provided medical care to trainees at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Though she had support from her supervisor and the civilian nurses she worked with, she struggled to find a place and time to pump.
“There was no Army policy, no installation policy, no clinic policy. So any time I needed to pump, I just went in to one of the exam rooms and closed the door,” Marion said. “I would put a sign on the door, but the door didn’t lock. There were plenty of times someone would come in saying they needed the room for a trainee, and I would only be 5 minutes into my pump session. I would just have to stop and pack everything up. Then there were some days the optempo was so high that I would go the whole day without pumping. Sometimes I would leak in my uniform right through the breast pads I was wearing because I was so engorged. I would come home, desperate to pump on one side while my daughter fed on the other at the same time just to get relief.”
Luckily, Marion never came down with mastitis, but her supply diminished quickly and she was unable to continue breastfeeding after six months. Looking back at the struggles she faced makes her grateful for the support available to breastfeeding Soldiers today, Marion said, and she is proud to have been a part of the change.
“Being able to do this for Soldiers here at Fort Bliss has been very fulfilling,” she said. “For me to see where I was with my daughter and then see how much I have been able to provide the Soldiers here now – so much has changed in five years. And just think, five years from now, maybe every installation will have a lactation room. Maybe the fight will be even more forceful because Soldiers are better able to fulfill both their duty to their country and their duty to their family. Maybe we will even find ways to ship breastmilk home for free for Soldiers who are deployed. Who knows?”
BREMERTON, Washington — Ten NCOs won gold medals to lead the Army wrestling team to its 15th consecutive Armed Forces Championships title this weekend, bringing home team titles in both Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling.
The Army wrestling team defeated the Marines 27-6 in the deciding third round of the Greco-Roman competition, which took place Saturday at Naval Base Kitsap, Washington. Both teams entered the final dual meet unbeaten. The Army previously defeated Navy and Air Force.
The Marines finished second at the competition with a 2-1 record. Air Force (1-2) was third and the Navy (0-3) was fourth.
“This is one of the smallest, but toughest tournaments in the world,” said Bruce Robinson, the Army’s Greco-Roman coach. “It is always really, in essence, about pride and service. We have 15 in a row. We take this very seriously. The Marines, Air Force and Navy come here to fight. There is a lot of pride that is shown with this.”
Seven of the eight Army Greco-Roman wrestlers won individual gold medals. They included Sgt. Jermaine Hodge (59 kg./130 lbs.), Pfc. Michael Hooker (66 kg./145.5 lbs.), Sgt. Justin Lester (75 kg./165 lbs.), Sgt. Timothy Bleau (80 kg./176 lbs.), Sgt. Courtney Myers (85 kg./187 lbs.), Sgt. Caylor Williams (98 kg./215 lbs.) and Spc. Matthew Lamb (130 kg./286 lbs.) All of the Army champions were an unbeaten 3-0 in their weight classes, except Myers, who was 2-1 and won the gold on tiebreakers.
The only other individual champion was Capt. Bryce Saddoris (71 kg./156 lbs.) of the Marines, who went 3-1. Of the individual champions, Lester, Williams and Saddoris were all teammates on the 2015 Greco-Roman World Team that competed at the World Championships in Las Vegas in September. Lester is a two-time World bronze medalist and a 2012 Olympian.
Hooker, Saddoris, Lester and Williams repeated as Armed Forces champions from last year.
The champions in the Greco-Roman division qualified for the Olympic Team Trials, which will be April 9-10 in Iowa City, Iowa. Of the eight champions, six had already qualified. Hooker and Bleau are new qualifiers for the Olympic Team Trials.
There was one women’s Greco-Roman match, as two-time World bronze medalist Sgt. Sally Roberts of the Army scored on multiple gut wrenches to earn an 8-0 technical fall over Petty Officer 3rd Class Abril Ramirez of the Navy.
In freestyle wrestling, which took place Feb. 21, the Army defeated the Marines by a score of 24-8 in the deciding third round of the competition. The Army previously defeated the Navy 31-2 and the Air Force, 33-2.
The Marines finished second with a 2-1 record. Air Force (1-2) was third and the Navy (0-3) was fourth.
“I always feel good with a win,” said Shon Lewis, the Army’s freestyle wrestling coach and head wrestling coach of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program in Fort Carson, Colorado. “It makes the beer a little bit better and not as bitter. I was happy with the win. With freestyle, the Armed Forces are traditionally known for Greco, but this is a very exciting tournament. I always say it’s the toughest tournament in the United States. To come out with a win against the other services means a lot. I don’t know how many in a row it was. I still cherish it, but for some of these young Soldiers, the first time competing in the Armed Forces and be part of a team championship, it means a lot for them.”
Individual champions for the Army included Sgt. Max Nowry (57 kg./125.5 lbs.), Spc. Ryan Mango (61 kg./134 lbs.), Sgt. Vladyslov Dombrovskiy (74 kg./163 lbs.), Sgt. Victor Terrell (86 kg./189 lbs.) and Spc. Endhyr Meza (125 kg./275 lbs.). Hooker also took gold in freestyle, to pair up with the gold he had already earned in Greco-Roman.
Nowry, Dombrovskiy and Terrell are repeat champions from last year.
There was one women’s freestyle match. There, two-time World bronze medalist Roberts earned a 10-0 technical fall over Ramirez.
In men’s Greco-Roman wrestling, the following Soldiers won medals:
• 59 kg/130 lbs. weight class: Gold, Sgt. Jermaine Hodge • 66 kg/145.5 lbs. weight class: Gold, Pfc. Michael Hooker • 71 kg/156 lbs. weight class: Silver, Sgt. Jamel Johnson • 75 kg/165 lbs. weight class: Gold, Sgt. Justin Lester • 80 kg/176 lbs. weight class: Gold, Sgt. Timothy Bleau • 85 kg/187 lbs. weight class: Gold, Sgt. Courtney Myers • 98 kg/215 lbs. weight class: Gold, Sgt. Caylor Williams • 130 kg/286 lbs. weight class: Gold, Spc. Matthew Lamb
In women’s Greco-Roman wrestling, the following Soldier took home a medal: • 63 kg/138.75 lbs. weight class: Gold, Sgt. Sally Roberts
In men’s freestyle wrestling, the following Soldiers won medals: • 57 kg/125.5 lbs. weight class: Gold, Sgt. Max Nowry • 61 kg/134 lbs. weight class: Gold, Spc. Ryan Mango • 65 kg/143 lbs. weight class: Gold, Pfc. Michael Hooker • 70 kg/154 lbs. weight class: Silver, Spc. Isaac Dukes • 74 kg/163 lbs. weight class: Gold, Sgt. Vladyslov Dombrovskiy • 86 kg/189 lbs. weight class: Gold, Sgt. Victor Terrell • 97 kg/213 lbs. weight class: Silver, Pfc. Lucas Sheridan • 125 kg/275 lbs. weight class: Gold, Spc. Endhyr Meza
In women’s freestyle wrestling, the following Soldier took home a medal: • 63 kg/138.75 lbs weight class: Gold, Sgt. Sally Roberts
(Editor’s note: This article is reprinted with permission from Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling, who extends reprint rights to all Army newspapers).
By LISA FERDINANDO DoD News, Defense Media Activity
The Department of Defense is increasing military maternity leave and instituting other changes in an effort to support military families, improve retention and strengthen the force of the future, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said earlier this month. Women throughout the joint force may take 12 weeks of fully paid maternity leave, Carter told reporters at the Pentagon. The 12-week benefit is double the amount of time for paid maternity leave from when he became defense chief nearly a year ago, he noted. “This puts DoD in the top tier of institutions nationwide and will have significant influence on decision-making for our military family members,” Carter said. Though an attractive incentive for recruiting and retaining talent, the secretary said, the benefit also promotes the health and wellness of mothers through facilitating recovery and promoting breastfeeding and bonding with the infant. “Our calculation is quite simple — we want our people to be able to balance two of the most solemn commitments they can ever make: a commitment to serve their country and a commitment to start and support a family,” he said.
Sgt. Rachel Badgeley, who is stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland, said she welcomes the new policy. After the birth of her son, Cannon, in December, she used six weeks of maternity leave and is now using 30 days of personal leave to be with her baby. At this stage of his life, “I can’t imagine sending him to a day care,” she said. “We have emotional needs. Bonding at this age is important for establishing a strong relationship.”
Support for new parents
The maternity leave decision applies to all service members in the active-duty component and to reserve-component members serving in a full-time status or on definite active-duty recall or mobilization orders in excess of 12 months.
The new policy allows less than the Navy, which decided last year to institute 18 weeks of fully-paid maternity leave, Carter noted. Sailors and Marines who are pregnant or who become pregnant within 30 days of the enactment of the policy may still take the full 18 weeks of paid leave, he said.
In addition, the Department of Defense is seeking legislation to expand military paternity leave from the current 10-day leave benefit to a 14-day noncontinuous leave benefit, he said.
Any increase of paternal leave would be welcoming news for fathers, said Staff Sgt. Jose Ibarra, also stationed at Fort Meade. Fathers need time to be with their infants, too.
“Bonding is a definite plus,” said Ibarra, a new dad who recently took his 10 days in addition to personal leave to be with his new son, Kai Roman.
In addition to bonding, Ibarra said he needed the time to help his wife, Ricel, recover and care for the infant.
Increasing hours of military child care
The Department of Defense subsidizes child care on military installations to ensure its affordability, Carter said. However, he added, military families often have to use outside providers because the hours at military child care facilities do not align with the work schedules of service members.
With those challenges in mind, the Department of Defense is increasing child care access to 14 hours of the day throughout the force, he said.
“By providing our troops with child care they can rely on from before reveille until after taps, we provide one more reason for them to stay on board,” he said. “We show them that supporting a family and serving our country are by no means incompatible goals.”
David Vergun, Army News Service, contributed to this report.
With the recent publication of a revised breastfeeding and lactation support policy, the Army is moving to better support breastfeeding Soldiers and encouraging installations, commanders and NCOs to take the lead.
Female Soldiers should never have to choose between breastfeeding their children and serving in the Army, said Sgt. Maj. Derek Johnson, deputy chief of staff, G1 sergeant major.
“We need female Soldiers in our Army, and this is part of taking care of Soldiers,” Johnson said. “It is absolutely the right thing to do.”
Army Directive 2015-43 provides specific guidelines with regard to the location that must be provided and the amount of time that must be afforded new mothers needing to pump breastmilk. Implementing these measures will lead to a stronger and more resilient Army, Johnson said.
“When I was the G1 sergeant major for U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, (North Carolina), I had a master sergeant who was a very high performer,” Johnson said. “She had just had a baby, a son, a bouncing baby boy. And that led to a time in her life when she struggled with the question, ‘Should I stay in the military, or should I get out?’ And I think she decided to stay because we were able to give her the time and resources she needed to pump. Having those resources available to her enabled the Army to keep not only a high performer, but an NCO with so much experience yet to share. That is what we want to do: We want to provide breastfeeding Soldiers with the resources they need and treat them – and all our Soldiers – with the same dignity and respect.”
Just a few small changes will make a world of difference and create a friendlier environment for new mothers, Johnson said.
“I think we are creating a better culture within the Army,” he said. “This directive is sending a positive message.”
What does the directive say?
The three-page directive begins by stating that extensive medical research has documented the health, nutritional, immunologic, developmental, emotional, social and economic benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and child. The World Health Organization notes that breastfeeding is an “unequaled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants; it is also an integral part of the reproductive process with important implications for the health of mothers.”
In light of these benefits, the directive requires commanders to notify Soldiers of the Army’s breastfeeding and lactation support policy during initial pregnancy counseling, which is required by AR 600-8-24 and AR 635-200. Soldiers who want to continue breastfeeding after their return to duty are also required to notify their chain of command as soon as possible so that a plan can be made to best accommodate their needs.
Soldiers must be provided with a private space – not a restroom – with locking capabilities to breastfeed or express milk. The space must be within a reasonable distance of a safe water source and needs to have a place to sit, an electrical outlet and a flat surface other than the floor on which to place the pump and other equipment. It is a Soldier’s responsibility to supply the equipment needed to pump and store expressed breastmilk.
Commanders must ensure Soldiers are given adequate time to express milk, taking into account that each Soldier’s situation is unique. The time required varies depending on the age of the infant, the quality of the pump being used and how well the Soldier responds to it, as well as the distance from the lactation room to the Soldier’s workplace. Soldiers must be given reasonable lactation breaks for at least one year after the child’s birth, and the amount of time a Soldier requires will probably change within that year.
The directive also specifies that breastfeeding Soldiers remain eligible for field training, mobility exercises and, after completing their postpartum deferment period, deployment. During field training and exercises, Soldiers must be provided with a private space to pump. Commanders should work with the supporting medical officer to determine whether milk storage or transportation to garrison would be feasible during an exercise. Even if the Soldier is not able to store or transport her milk, she must still be afforded the same amount of time to pump to maintain the physiological capability for lactation. The less a mother pumps, the less milk her body makes.
Tailored installation policies
Those writing the directive engaged with military medical experts, leaders and Soldiers, as well as referenced other services’ breastfeeding policies, Johnson said.
“When we created the policy, we included specific requirements to make sure that it wasn’t in a bathroom, it was a sanitary area and that we met mandated needs of the Soldier. But we still allow leaders to be leaders,” Johnson said. “We allow the commanders and the leaders at the lower levels to fully assess the needs of the Soldiers and address those unique needs. We want to give leaders the flexibility to enhance programs on their installations without telling them exactly how to go about it.”
Johnson said he is confident installations will take the initiative to create their own breastfeeding and lactation support policies tailored to their needs and mission requirements.
“I know some commands are reaching laterally across the board from command to command in order to say, ‘Hey, what measures are working on your installation? What are the pros and cons? Maybe we need to adopt those as well,’” Johnson said.
Breastfeeding in Combat Boots, a nonprofit organization committed to advocating, informing and supporting all active-duty, Guard and Reserve personnel who are breastfeeding while serving in the military, has highlighted one installation’s policy in particular. The policy at Fort Bliss, Texas, is praised for being comprehensive and clearly outlining the responsibilities of everyone from the garrison commander to the breastfeeding Soldier. The 22-page document even includes guidelines for creating a lactation room, as well as sample schedules for breastfeeding mothers to use when requesting accommodations.
Staff Sgt. Amanda Marion was the 1st Armored Division Medical NCO and the Pregnancy and Postpartum Physical Training (P3T) Program NCOIC when she wrote the Fort Bliss policy, even before there was an Army Directive. Marion, currently the Patient-Care Representative in the Department of Women’s Health at William Beaumont Army Medical Center, said she is glad to see other installations creating policies.
“The Army directive is very broad, allowing commanders to establish their own guidelines,” Marion said. “That’s why Bliss’ policy is being labeled a model policy, because we cover everything, including our civilian workforce. I’m always happy to provide other installations with a copy of our policy because it helps out all the other 74,000 females in the Army.”
What can NCOs do?
Marion said she hopes NCOs leading pregnant or postpartum Soldiers will take the time to read over the Army directive and ask questions about things they don’t understand.
“They should look up the federal, state and local laws and try to just be there for their Soldiers, because that is one of our jobs as an NCO – taking care of our Soldiers and putting their needs above our own,” she said.
NCOs, especially male NCOs with no children, may feel uncomfortable talking about breastfeeding, but they need to be the bigger person, Marion said.
“Sit down with them in a one-on-one counseling and say, ‘I don’t know anything about pregnancy. I don’t know anything about breastfeeding, but I would like to be able to help you when you return. Whatever you need, please educate me on it, so that when you come back we can get you right back into the fight and still allow you to do what you need to do to provide for your baby,’” Marion said. “And if NCOs are too embarrassed to ask about something in particular, Breastfeeding in Combat Boots is an outstanding resource, covering all branches of service.”
It’s not just about the logistics, Marion noted. Supporting a breastfeeding Soldier means establishing a positive environment, one where she feels comfortable. A postpartum Soldier will be more motivated to excel in her work, Marion said, if she knows her NCO has her back.
“NCOs need to be very open-minded and aware of how their facial expressions, their body language and the tone in their voice affects a Soldier who is postpartum,” Marion said. “Soldiers need to feel comfortable enough with that NCO to let them know, ‘Hey, this is what is going on with me, and I need a little bit more time than that 30 minutes to pump.’”
Communication is important, Marion said, because if that Soldier is not given the time to pump, or if she begins to skip pumping sessions because of embarrassment or other roadblocks, her milk supply will diminish and she may experience medical complications including painful lumps in her breasts, called clogged ducts, or even mastitis, an infection requiring emergency medical care.
“You may have a female Soldier with a great milk supply,” Marion said. “She is able to pump a lot of milk for her baby, but then she is not afforded that time to pump because her unit is getting ready for deployment or getting ready to go to the field. The mission is taking precedence, and the Soldier may say, ‘It’s OK; I can hold off one more hour.’ Meanwhile, she can feel her breasts becoming engorged, but she isn’t doing anything about it. All of a sudden, the Soldier becomes really sick. Now you have to take the Soldier completely out of the fight because she is in the hospital or put on quarters. In the worst possible case, if mastitis isn’t resolved, the Soldier could go into septic shock and die. It’s very, very painful, and it can all be avoided if she is simply given the time and resources she needs to pump. She may have been in a critical MOS that you needed, and now she has been taken out of the fight because she was not following her established pump schedule. Now you have to try to replace her, if you can.
“It really will affect unit readiness. Putting a few simple measures in place to support these Soldiers will make for more resilient, motivated Soldiers, and a stronger Army overall.”
Stay tuned for an article taking a closer look at the Fort Bliss breastfeeding policy.