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Female airman breastfeeding featured in photographer's latest collection

April 23, 2016
Women in high-stress career fields such as firefighters, doctors and members of the military have sat for Tara Ruby's breastfeeding photography collection. Her latest inspiration includes a female airman in her flight suit, breastfeeding two children.

"I'm so glad the Air Force is a part of [this collection] now," Ruby told Air Force Times on Thursday. "There have been so many active-duty moms who've wanted to capture this," Ruby said, describing how more female military members have come forward to document the natural moment. 

The airman and her rank are not identifiable in the photo. Her patch represents the 49th Wing, assigned to Air Combat Command. The unit is stationed at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico.

​In September, Ruby photographed 10 female soldiers in uniform at Fort Bliss, Texas, breastfeeding their children. 

The photo unexpectedly went viral. 

"Today I believe we made history," Ruby said at the time. "To my knowledge, a group photo to show support of active-duty military mommies nursing their littles has never been done. It is so nice to see support for this here at Fort Bliss."

Ruby and her team worked with Fort Bliss public affairs to capture the image because some soldiers had reservations it would violate Army regulations. 

“There’s no regulation against it, but we still wanted to make sure public affairs knew because I knew, once this goes online, we’d get some feedback,” she said.  A Fort Bliss spokesman, who talked to Army Times,  told Army Times ​that “mothers in uniform volunteered to participate in the photo, which was taken with the intent to be enlarged and posted as a wall decoration in facilities with breastfeeding rooms.”

Ruby, who joined the Air Force in 1997 and was assigned to Space Command "a little over four years," also said her work capturing uniformed women "should never be looked at in a sexual nature.”

 

"I sincerely hope that the majority of those of you that have seen my work can see the positive aspect of this," Ruby said in a  April 16 blog post on her website. "The support networks that we are creating with every new photo. Breastfeeding is natural. It’s normal. And it’s legal. Every mom should be able to be able to capture this amazing adventure without the fear of being disciplined because of it."

Without discussing the the latest photo of the female airman, Air Force spokeswoman Rose Richeson said the Air Force "is supportive of breastfeeding mothers and installations are continuously adapting to offer suitable areas to meet their parenting needs." 

"There is no Air Force policy prohibiting breastfeeding in uniform, however, Airmen should be mindful of their dress and appearance and present a professional image at all times while wearing the uniform," she said in an email Thursday.

In 2012, two airmen came under fire for donning their uniforms for a photo session in support of Breastfeeding Awareness Month. The women, from Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, violated a policy that forbids military members from using the uniform to further a cause, promote a product or imply an endorsement, a spokesman said at the time.

In the photo, the women were breastfeeding their children in unbuttoned airman battle uniforms. One of the airmen, the mother of then-10-month-old twin girls, was pictured with her T-shirt pushed above her bared chest.

Ruby said the airman who pulled up her T-shirt probably realized it was "the only way to do this." 

"It is a challenge, and I've seen it from every military mom," Ruby said. "It is not easy to breastfeed while in these uniforms. I would have never dreamed of doing these photos. The mentality back then was to just go breastfeed in a dark room, but now [the culture] of the military is much more family friendly. But uniforms for women are just not made for this."

Yet. 

Oriana Pawlyk covers deployments, cyber, Guard/Reserve, uniforms, physical training, crime and operations in the Middle East and Europe for Air Force Times. She was the Early Bird Brief editor in 2015. Email her at opawlyk@airforcetimes.com.

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