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Ex-staff sgt. scolded for breastfeeding

Feb. 5, 2013 - 10:32AM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 5, 2013 - 10:32AM  |  
A former Air Force staff sergeant said she was scolded for breastfeeding her daughter while in uniform at an administrative office on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.
A former Air Force staff sergeant said she was scolded for breastfeeding her daughter while in uniform at an administrative office on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. ()
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A former staff sergeant said both she and her airman husband were threatened with disciplinary action after she breastfed her infant while in uniform at an administrative office on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.

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A former staff sergeant said both she and her airman husband were threatened with disciplinary action after she breastfed her infant while in uniform at an administrative office on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.

According to Mandi Wagnild, who recently separated from the Air Force: She donned her uniform in early January for a final outprocessing appointment at the base's military personnel flight. She brought her 9-month-old daughter along. When the child became fussy, Wagnild nursed her as discreetly as she could manage — without showing skin. A chief master sergeant approached and politely offered her a private room, she said.

Wagnild said she declined because she was almost finished. The chief told her it wasn't appropriate to breastfeed there, then left after she declined the private room for a second time.

Wagnild said she gave her chain-of-command a heads-up after the incident. Her first sergeant told her that the chief had spoken to the base legal office and "confirmed" that she was breaking the law. Wagnild said she was accused of failing to obey a lawful order and public indecency and that her separation could be postponed so disciplinary action could be taken against her.

That never happened, Wagnild said. But when she went back to the office three days later to make a correction in her paperwork — this time in civilian clothes — and again began breastfeeding in the waiting room when her child became fussy, a civilian employee told her either to cover up or go to a private room.

Wagnild said she refused on principle.

The first sergeant contacted Wagnild's husband this time, she said, "to counsel him about controlling his dependents. My husband came back and said if I went back to the MPF and tried to breastfeed again, they would call security forces, escort me out and file charges.

"This is ridiculous. This is taking it way too far. It's not like I was stripping at the MPF," she said.

Wagnild filed a complaint with the equal opportunity office on base. She said she has been told that breastfeeding at the MPF would no longer be an issue, as long as no skin shows. If it does, she said she was told, "it's illegal."

The Air Force has no policy on breastfeeding in uniform. That point was made in June when photos of two Air Force reservists with babies to their breasts went viral on the Internet. The women had posed for the photos while wearing their uniforms for a breastfeeding awareness campaign.

The picture launched an online debate on the topic. Some held the women up as the epitome of the modern military mother. Others said they'd disgraced the uniform — and that what they'd done was no different from urinating in public.

Many urged the Air Force to come up with a policy. The service did not respond to questions about Wagnild's incident.

Wagnild shared her story with former sailor and "Breastfeeding in Combat Boots" author Robyn Roche-Paull, who runs a http://breastfeedingincombatboots.com/">website and https://www.facebook.com/BreastfeedinginCombatBoots">Facebook page that dole out advice to nursing military moms.

Roche-Paull said she couldn't see that Wagnild broke any laws.

"My take on it is this has nothing to do even with being in uniform," she said. "It was the whole idea that the baby was at the ‘b-word,' the breast, and somebody didn't like it. This doesn't surprise me, but this saddens me that this continues to be a problem no matter where you go."

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