Air Force reduces barriers for pregnant aviators

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Airman 1st Class Lauren Sprunk, 23d Wing photojournalist, and her son, Jayce, pose for a photo illustration, May 11, 2017, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga., in honor of mothers who serve in the military. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Airman 1st Class Lauren M. Sprunk and Senior Airman Janiqua Robinson)

The Air Force recently updated a policy to reduce restrictions on pregnant women who perform flight duties.

Effective immediately, remotely piloted aircrew, missile operations duty crews and certain fully qualified pilots are authorized to perform their assigned duties during pregnancy without a medical waiver.

“We recognize that each pregnancy is as unique as our professional female aviators we trust to operate our weapon systems,” said Lt. Gen. Dorothy Hogg, Air Force surgeon general. “We’re empowering women to work closely with their obstetrician and flight medicine providers to pick a path that is tailored to their individual needs, while ensuring we’re doing everything to support them throughout their pregnancy.”

Hogg further explained that no Airman will ever be forced to fly while pregnant, even those pregnancies deemed as uncomplicated by medical professionals. Airmen who have pregnancies without complications and choose to continue to fly may change their mind at any time.

The change, reflected in the Medical Standards Directory, is one of several policy adjustments made in recent months intended to remove obstacles female Airmen face when considering long-term service in the Air Force.

“We are also reviewing occupational hazards in the aviation environment to see if we can open up the opportunities for trained aircrew to perform flight duties on the full portfolio of Air Force platforms,” said Lt. Gen. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost, Air Force director of staff and advisor on the Air Force’s Diversity and Inclusion efforts. “We’re focused on eliminating barriers in our existing policies that signal to female Airmen and potential recruits that becoming a parent and being an aviator, controller or missile operator in our service are incompatible.”

This latest move eliminated a standardized regulation regarding pregnancy and created a policy that’s fully informed by the member’s individual situation and the advice of her professional medical team.

“Pregnancy is a planning factor that our Air Force policy makers and line commanders need to incorporate into daily business,” said Lt. Gen. Mark Kelly, Air Force deputy chief of staff for operations. “As more women join the aviation workforce in the 21st century, we are taking proactive steps to ensure that our policies are revised now — to effectively execute the mission, retain our current workforce and attract the next generation of Air Force aviators.”

Changes were made to the existing process for Airmen who are fully qualified to fly, which expanded the time parameters for flying while pregnant, eliminated the requirement for a higher headquarters waiver (for Airmen with uncomplicated pregnancies to be able to return to flight), and delegated authorities regarding the issue down to the local level.

“I am excited that our trained aircrew now have expanded options to continue maintaining their flying proficiency and essential qualifications in the air during pregnancy,” said Lt. Col. Jammie Jamieson, Air Force chief of reserve operations integration, fighter pilot and member of the Air Force Women’s Initiative Team. “Flying is a sport and a perishable skill, so being able to minimize time out of the air helps preserve their individual skills and readiness, and retains the Air Force’s significant investment in them.”

Jamieson, who was the first operationally qualified female F-22 Raptor pilot assigned to a combat coded unit and is a parent of three, stressed the importance of ongoing policy reform.

“I’m really proud to be part of the team supporting the CSAF’s (Air Force chief of staff’s) vision for our Air Force to better represent the demographic and cultural diversity of the nation we are privileged to serve,” Jamieson continued. “The Women’s Initiative Team has done a lot of work this past year to tackle many of these policy barriers. Destigmatizing pregnancy across the aviation workforce is essential in attracting female citizens to join our Air Force team.”

Worldwide mobility restrictions applied to all Airmen during pregnancy remain in place.