Another evolution for the military academies

All of our military academies, USAFA included, are built on traditions. Pick out an element of the uniform and there will be a story behind it. There’s a reason they march the way they do. The names on the buildings, the statues, they all mean something.

That being said, things do change. Over the course of years, things are added and others fade into history. It can be something big, like the addition of the Space Force adding a whole new career path for cadets to pursue. Or changing the scramble of cadets from after second-class year to after fourth-class year. Or the change in vision requirements for pilots.

A change is coming to our academies and I’ll be honest, I’m surprised there hasn’t been more discussion about it.

Here’s the lead of a story on The Hill website: “A provision quietly passed in the sweeping defense spending bill in December will for the first time allow cadets at U.S. military academies to have children.”

The push began as a bipartisan effort between Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) who sponsored the CADET Act, which says “a cadet cannot be forced to give up a child, may not be expelled after becoming a parent, and allows the student to take leave up to one year before returning to the academy.”

The CADET Act didn’t pass on its own but was instead folded into a massive defense spending bill. The bill puts President Biden on the clock as he must implement a policy affirming parental rights at the military academies by the end of the year. That doesn’t include the Coast Guard Academy, which has a complicated legal case to settle before it can be included. That being said, the Pentagon indicated that if students drop out after having a child, they will repay the student loans.

As is often the case, I can see both sides of the pro-con argument. But what I’m left wrestling with is the practical application. Here’s the scenario I’ve been trying to unravel in my mind.

Let’s say a cadet discovers she is two months pregnant in mid-August. So she makes use of the new policy and takes the following academic year off. She gives birth in the Spring and stays home with her new baby through the summer. So far, so good, right? But this is where a lot of my questions become complicated and answers aren’t readily available as Biden will have until year’s end to develop the details.

But let’s say our hypothetical cadet lives on the East Coast. She returns to Colorado Springs in late August to re-enter the Cadet Wing, already needing to not only readjust to life at USAFA, but doing so with a new class, all of her former classmates having moved up the class ladder. But there are still many questions. Where does her four-month-old live? Assuming our cadet is not a Colorado native, does the baby stay back home, wherever that is? Does the Cadet get an exemption that allows them to live off-campus with their child? Does the Academy need to make accommodations so that Parent-Cadets can live in the dormitories with their children?

Having seen what my son went through at the Naval Academy and what my daughter has endured so far at the Air Force Prep School and USFA, I’m not sure I understand how someone at a military academy can manage being a parent at the same time. However, since the bill has already been passed, I’m not sure it’s worth debating the good or bad of its provisions. The real, long-term impact will be determined by two things: First, how many cadets will feel the impact of this change? I mean, in real practical terms, how many cadets will have a child then re-enter the Academy? Second, what will the final details look like? In the hypothetical scenario above, the experience could vary greatly depending on how the policy is implemented.

Remember, it was only back in October of 1975 that President Gerald Ford signed a law that allowed women to attend our military academies so that in the summer of 1976, it actually began. But by all accounts, those first few years were beyond difficult. Without question, the first cadets that utilize this new policy about cadet-parents will find it to be rough sledding. I expect this new policy to be no different.

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Read the full story on The Hill.

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