Defense Department Conference Call with Maj. Gen. Cucolo via Teleconference from Iraq on Multinational Division North General Order
GEN. CUCOLO: I see some of the names are old, familiar friends and public affairs officers. Great to see your names on the list.
I thought -- what I'd like to do is -- if I could, I'd like to open up with a statement. And actually I hope you all don't mind. I've been answering -- in the last 48 hours, I've been asking a number -- I've been answering a number of questions.
What I'd like to do is hit you with the answers to those questions, along with my opening statement. And then we'll see what your continuing questions are. Happy to engage.
We're in the middle of some -- I'm busy, so I hope you would appreciate that. And I have about 30 minutes. We'll take it to five minutes to the hour.
Okay, listen, and I do -- I really appreciate the discussion about this one aspect of a general order I've applied here in Iraq. And you know, unless you talk to me, the true intent of my directive perhaps cannot be easily understood by those outside the military. So I'd like to give you some education.
In this 22,000-soldier task force, I need every soldier I've got especially since during this tour, we're facing a drawdown of forces. Anyone who leaves the fight earlier than expected, in this 12-month deployment, creates a burden on their teammates.
And anyone who leaves this fight early because they made a personal choice that changed their medical status or contributed to making someone no longer deployable is not in keeping with a key element of the Army's warrior ethos -- that is, "I will always place the mission first." We place the mission before ourselves. And it's also not in keeping with three of our seven core values: loyalty, duty and selfless service. And I believe there should be professional consequences for making a choice like that.
I -- the message to my -- the message to my female soldiers I'm trying to say loud and clear is, they are absolutely invaluable. Many of them hold high-impact jobs. And these high-impact jobs are few in number, and I need them for the entire duration of this deployment.
Look, with their male counterparts, they fly helicopters, run my satellite communications; they repair just about everything I have. They refuel and re-arm aircraft in remote locations.
My female soldiers are some of my most brilliant and creative intelligence analysts. I do not want to lose anyone from that cell.
They're critical members of medical teams in all areas of log and personal logistics and personnel support in a -- in an area that's essentially 225 square kilometers, or about the size of Georgia.
Since I'm responsible and accountable for the fighting ability of this outfit, I'm going to do everything I can to keep my combat power. And in the Army, combat power is the individual soldier.
Now, to this end, I made an existing policy stricter. And I wanted to encourage my soldiers to think before they acted and understand their behavior and actions have consequences -- all of their behavior. I consider the male soldier as responsible for taking a soldier out of the fight just as responsible as the female soldier that I lose.
And to ensure consistent and measured approach in applying the policy, I'm the only one who passes judgment on these. I mean, I decide every case based on unique facts. I take recommendations from the chain of command. But I'm the only one that decides on these cases. And of the very few cases I've handled thus far, it was actually a male soldier who got the most severe punishment, because he committed adultery and fraternization, as well as made one of my female soldiers non-deployable by impregnating her.
All right. So there have not been any cases of sexual assault. Any pregnancy that's the product of a sexual assault would most certainly not be considered here. Our total focus would be on the health and welfare of that victim and justice for the perpetrator.
I -- look, I realize it might be hard for those who have never served in a military unit to completely understand what I tried to explain, but one of the questions I was asked was, "Don't you think you're treading on an intensely personal topic?" And my response to it was, listen, leaving those who depend on you short-handed in a combat zone gets to be very personal for those left, too.
And what I did was I made -- I added something to a standing general order, as an overall effort to motivate thoughtful and responsible behavior among my soldiers.
Now, some of the questions I've been getting is that, "Is this General Order Number 1 just for MND-North?" Yeah -- yes, I made the call, just me. Every unit -- see, this General Order Number 1 thing that we've been dealing with, gosh, as far back as, probably, deployment to the Balkans in the mid-'90s, every unit reads the General Order Number 1 of its higher headquarters, and then writes its own. A subordinate commander -- a more junior commander, like me -- I'm junior to Lieutenant General Jacoby and General Odierno -- I can make something stricter; I cannot make it more lax.
And so, I wrote this policy, this current one, last summer while I was still at Fort Stewart, Georgia, going through the train-up for this deployment. We prepared as many documents as we could to get ready for -- we knew what we were getting into. I talked to my fellow commanders -- I talked to -- pardon me, I talked to my commanders, my subordinate commanders, and their sergeants-major. I always listen to an NCO, and I talked to the sergeants-major; certainly consulted with my lawyer about the entire General Order Number 1. Remember, this is just one sentence in a pretty plausible policy. Talked with my lawyer; made sure what we were doing was legal. And I -- you know, one of my commanders is a female lieutenant-colonel. She supported it a hundred percent. One of my command sergeants -- one of my sergeants-major is a female sergeant-major. She supported it a hundred percent. So, I did in fact make it stricter.
And I've been asked several times what prompted me to do it; was there a higher number of pregnancies than the task force that was here before? Did I have a sense that the ban on fraternization was not being followed?
And quite frankly I tell you what: I have no idea how many pregnancies were in the unit before me. And as far as I can tell, fraternization restrictions are fine. They're being followed.
My decision to make this stricter was based on my past experience and my current experience as the division commander of the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia, and Hunter Army Airfield.
But really the main reason why I did this was my intense desire to maintain my fighting strength in any way possible, in a very tough and complex mission that includes a drawdown.
Now, people have asked me if I could explain the significance relative to all the other things we outline in general order number one. And I don't see it as significant.
My soldiers know they're needed for the duration of the 12-month deployment. Applying this criteria is intended to promote thoughtful and responsible behavior.
And I wanted all my soldiers to think before they act, like I said, before they make a personal choice that has consequences. And that would be the consequence of leaving your team shorthanded in combat, not the consequence of punishment.
The consequences of them departing early is, they're leaving their team, their unit shorthanded with their special skills. I got asked if there were any cases of pregnancies that would have merited court-martial. Did I consider court-martial?
Now, I regret that the term court-martial was bandied about or mentioned by one of the earliest written reports on this. I think what they did was, they probably read the general order number one and saw the words there.
This is -- this aspect of general order number one is a good order and discipline issue. And I believe that I can handle violations of this aspect with lesser degrees of punishment.
So no, I do not -- I have not ever considered court-martial for this. I do not ever see myself putting a soldier in jail for this. I have had four soldiers. I have had to deal with four cases. In each case, they received a written reprimand, a letter of reprimand.
Now, I had two choices with that written letter of reprimand. I could have put it in their official file, which may or may not have impacted their career. But it would stay in their file, be seen at promotion boards, things like that.
Or I could put it in their local file, which is local disciplinary action, stays in the unit for a finite period of time and does not follow them when they're transferred.
In the four cases I had, they got local letters of reprimand. The obviously you say -- you know, I mean, I hold the men accountable too.
So there should have been four males punished. There were three males punished. And the reason there weren't four is because one female soldier did not want to say the name of the father, and I dropped it. I did not pursue it.
The two males got a letter of reprimand, local file, based on recommendations from their chain of command, their company commander, their battalion commander, their brigade commander.
And one male got a letter of -- written letter of reprimand placed in his official file because, one, he was a sergeant and was fraternizing, therefore committed -- then violated fraternization policy; two, he was a married man, and this woman was not his wife. So the most severe punishment I have meted out has gone to a male soldier, actually, under this policy so far.
And I'll just -- let me just give you a last one. I got asked what's been my reaction to the attention being focused on this particular restriction. Well, many of you listening to me know I'm the former chief of public affairs. And I was not surprised by the reaction. When I -- when I wrote this -- when I wrote this, I knew there would be public interest, and I also knew there'd be a period of time when many folks would opine and give their own personal thoughts and blog about it. And I am fine with that. That's America.
But I was also willing to deal with this attention, because this is important. I am responsible and accountable for the fighting ability of my task force. I've got to take every measure to preserve my combat power, and I -- and that's the reason.
So thank you for your patience with that. I will now be quiet and let Jeff Allen call your name and let you ask a question.
MODERATOR: Okay. Let's begin with Joe Gould, the Army Times.
Q Hi there. Thank you, sir. My question is, what level of guidance did you get from above on this? Has there been any senior- level guidance that went into this policy? Has there been any guidance since, particularly since -- in light of the media attention? And what's the result of that been?
GEN. CUCOLO: Okay, to answer your first question, the -- I would call reading my higher headquarters' General Order Number 1 "guidance from higher." So I read it, and it's almost word for word, in many cases, just like my higher headquarters' General Order Number 1. And I made it stricter in this regard.
So there was no verbal guidance given to me, none whatsoever, about the pregnancy issue. It was purely my call. And I felt, quite frankly, as a major general commanding 22,000 soldiers, it's a call I could make, as long as it was legal.
And so since the -- to answer your second question, since the media attention spiked, the -- there's been absolutely no guidance of any kind from my higher headquarters.
MODERATOR: Rebecca Santana, AP.
Q Yes, I was wondering, is there any type of emergency contraception available or things like that for women who do find that they get pregnant? I mean, is there -- are they in a position where there's really not a -- other -- lot of other options besides getting pregnant and going home?
GEN. CUCOLO: I -- and I'm -- I missed the very beginning of your question. I'm sorry. Say again?
Q What is the -- is there, for women who do find that they get pregnant in theater, do they -- is there some sort of type of emergency contraception? Are there other options available to them besides just going home?
GEN. CUCOLO: No. As soon as we find out a female soldier's pregnant, she is redeployed for the most appropriate medical care back home.
MODERATOR: Andrew Magonney of AP Radio.
Q General, good evening. Can you tell us anything about conversations that you've had with some of your female soldiers and any kind of reaction that you've gotten from them about this?
GEN. CUCOLO: Well, let's see. Really -- I went -- this is a modular division. And I'll keep this as brief as possible. I did not deploy -- although I have with me the 3rd Infantry Division headquarters, which is just under a thousand people, about 800 people, I did not bring the entire 3rd Infantry Division with me.
The Army deploys brigades; almost deals them like cards. They -- they go out and they work for other two-stars. So I have brigades from Fort Riley, Kansas; Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Lewis, Washington. My aviation brigade is from Hawaii. I have -- my own 2nd Brigade did come with me, from Fort Stewart, Georgia.
Now, because I have different brigades and different brigade commanders, I made an effort -- and I got to everybody except the Fort Lewis brigade, because they deployed before I could get to them -- I made an effort to go to that home station and stand in front of those soldiers and brief them on expectations; so many other things other than General Order Number 1. But in my talk I made it clear to them that they had to understand General Order Number 1, because it might have been different than what they were used to.
Now, that did not spark any conversation of soldiers. The only conversations with soldiers -- the only conversations I've had is with several female leaders -- relatively senior in rank -- who expressed only support.
MODERATOR: Next will be Anna Mulrine, of U.S. News and World Report.
Q General, I'd like to get back to the emergency contraception question, and if I'm not mistaken -- you know, the morning-after pill, so it's something you would take within about 72 hours of having an accident or if the condom didn't work or something. You know, if that's not available, are you thinking about making that available to your female soldiers?
GEN. CUCOLO: It's not -- we don't provide -- we do not provide any abortive services to our soldiers. It's just not -- the morning- after pill -- nothing -- there's nothing like that here.
Q Yeah, but that's different from any sort of abortive services. I mean it's the morning after -- but you can't get that. Are you thinking about providing that to them? Has there been any talk of that as you've kind of been talking about the general order?
GEN. CUCOLO: No. Only talk -- no, only discussion about -- about appropriate behavior and consideration of the impact of getting pregnant, of getting someone pregnant. That's the only discussion that's taken place. Nothing about pills.
Q Did any of the soldiers raise that?
GEN. CUCOLO: No.
Q Or any of the female leaders?
GEN. CUCOLO: No.
MODERATOR: Steve Fluty, Pentagon Channel.
Q Yeah, sir, just wanted to know: You said in your written statement that you would be the only individual passing judgment on these cases on a case-by-case basis. Are there -- are there any guidelines under UCMJ or JAG where these soldiers could appeal? Is there a process under JAG?
GEN. CUCOLO: For an administrative letter of reprimand, no.
You -- and let me explain this to you. When -- what -- here's what happens. I issue the letter of reprimand -- and we're in -- I am currently at about 49 different locations across Multinational Division-North, so we're spread out. The letter goes to the unit. If I can -- if I can get to the soldier, I absolutely most prefer to issue the letter personally. But the first four, that hasn't been able to happen, and primarily because we've been getting them out of theater for medical reasons.
But what happens is, the soldier is given the opportunity to submit matters of her own. She can -- she can write, and he can write, a rebuttal of some kind to give us reasons why we should file the letter locally, or -- and locally would be the defense. That's what they'd want, I would -- I would assume. So we consider that.
And then there's -- there's three sheets: one from the company- level chain of command, one from the battalion-level chain of command, one from the brigade-level chain of command -- that's a captain, a lieutenant colonel and a colonel -- with their recommendation on where the letter of reprimand is filed. And then I pass judgment on that.
Now, if this was an Article 15, if this was a court-martial, yes, they would certainly have the right to appeal. But in this administrative action, no.
MODERATOR: Next will be Sarah Netter of abc.com.
Q Hi, how are you? My question is, I understand fully your intent for doing this. And like you said, it is one provision in a very long list of restrictions. Some of those are actually quite serious.
Since you've now come out and said that you have no intention of court-martialing and that the action against these people will be largely administrative, and that most of the people that have already gotten called out for this have gotten something that's not gone on their permanent record, what's the point of this order if basically all they're going to get is a slap on the wrist?
GEN. CUCOLO: I believe that soldiers -- I believe that soldiers think about this. And I believe that they -- the true purpose behind this is to cause them to pause and think about, okay, wait a minute, it was written in the order and I'm going to leave my team, I'm going to leave an outfit shorthanded.
I tell you what; when you lose one member of a critical three- member ammo, fuel-handling team in a remote part of the western desert of Iraq, the other three team members, who are doing 24-hour operations, have to pick up a lot of slack. I'm just trying to get them to think through that. Will some soldiers hear this, read this and say, "Well, that's nothing"? Sure, they might, but I'm counting on -- I've got 22,000 incredible soldiers that are absolutely fantastic young Americans, and I'm counting on them to do the right thing.
MODERATOR: Richard Sisk of New York Daily News.
Q General, what happens to the male soldiers who are involved here? Were they also sent back to the States? And sir, can you say -- in your command I think you said 22,000. How many have been sent back, not just for this but for other medical reasons?
GEN. CUCOLO: You know, a number of have been sent back for other medical reasons, but, you know, for example, being severely wounded by an RKG-3 hand grenade. But the -- please don't forget there's actually still a lot of work to be done over here. And -- I'm sorry, I'll answer the question.
I have 22,000 -- just under 22,000 soldiers, just about 22,000, rounding up. I have 1,682 female soldiers in that group. I have sent four female soldiers back with this -- with this punishment, based under General Order Number 1. I have sent another four female soldiers back, so a total of eight.
But those four deployed -- they had just arrived in theater -- and found out they were pregnant.
So it was conceived -- they conceived before they arrived in theater. And they were not under general order number one. They got no punishment at all obviously. But unfortunately I had to send those soldiers home too. The males don't go home.
MODERATOR: Gerry Mauza -- CBS.
Q General, with your decision to do this, I guess, unilaterally, does that sort of mean that your division operates under a whole different set of rules than other divisions in Iraq?
Is that unusual?
GEN. CUCOLO: I believe -- no. It just means this division operates under Major General Tony Cucolo. That's all that means.
We -- every commander has his or her own way to weave the fabric of their unit, so it is tight and it is strong. And they use different techniques. And this is just one that I used. And it is part of so much more.
MODERATOR: Mary Walsh.
Q General, you said that you came to this decision based on your experiences at Fort Stewart. Was there something happening at Fort Stewart that brought this to your attention?
How did it first raise to the level where you felt you had to put it down in writing? And does it say something about how stressed the Army is, as the drawdown happens and the plus-up in Afghanistan?
GEN. CUCOLO: No. First of all, hi, Mary, how are you?
The plus-up in Afghanistan wasn't an issue at all at the time I wrote this note, this general order number one. I don't think it says anything about the stress on the Army.
What I saw in the 3rd Infantry Division, as I saw in other units, this issue that sometimes when you -- when you're either -- it is difficult to lose a soldier for any reason. But for soldiers to have a personal choice that results in them being taken out of the fight, I was in a position where I could make a difference.
I was in a position where I could implement a policy that maybe would save two or three or four or more of my soldiers and keep them in the fight.
And so it -- really it was -- I had -- I have just noted the loss of incredibly talented female soldiers, due to pregnancy, in past assignments. I was concerned about it in the 3rd I -- the 3rd Infantry Division, not because our numbers were high or something like that, only because it concerned me.
And so, again, I was finally in a position where I could -- I could do something about it. And it's my attempt to make my soldiers think.
MODERATOR: Leo Shane, Stars and Stripes.
Q Yes. Hi, General. Getting back to that issue of making your soldiers think, do you need to include this in General Order 1, then? Wouldn't a memo or, you know, an instruction to your commanders be enough? Why do you need to have the possibility of a court- martial, of an Article 15, of some sort of more severe punishment, if you're just -- if your intention is just to do administrative letters?
GEN. CUCOLO: Well, it -- I certainly could. I sure could. But I'm a fan of as much simplicity and one source of references for certain types of information, and so I put it in General Order Number 1.
So I could certainly put it in another memo. I could do it a different way. But I chose to put it in General Order Number 1.
Q But why was that --
MODERATOR: Adam Levine (sp).
GEN. CUCOLO: Pardon me?
Q Hi, General. I -- do you want to answer his follow-up first?
GEN. CUCOLO: Well, I just missed the why -- why did I put it in General Order Number 1?
Q I mean, why did you make that choice to take that -- I guess some would see it as a more heavy-handed approach?
GEN. CUCOLO: Well, I -- again, I wanted it to be in among all the other things that soldiers had to consider about their personal behavior or their actions in a combat zone.
And that was why.
MODERATOR: Well, let's go to Adam Levine.
Q Hi. Thanks. I'm wondering when this was the only -- is this the only thing you added to General Order 1? And was there anything else you considered but -- also, in terms of conduct, that you thought might be included but you chose not to?
GEN. CUCOLO: I didn't quite understand the second half of that. I'm sorry?
Q Just were there any other behaviors or conduct issues that you considered adding to General Order 1 in addition to the pregnancy directive, but you chose not to in the end?
GEN. CUCOLO: No, it's pretty comprehensive. I did -- I took some other actions. I specifically stated that -- and it's not in General Order Number 1 -- I withhold -- I take all senior officer and senior -- pardon me, all senior-leader misconduct, I handle that. That's master-sergeant and higher, and lieutenant and warrant officer and higher. That's something else I do. I've chosen to do that.
I've -- oh, also, yeah, I also added -- something else I added was, if anyone violates the -- there's a casualty notification process that is very specific by the Department of the Army. If anyone gets in front of that -- for example, knows of the death of a soldier and gets in front of or interrupts the casualty-notification process by informing a family early and improperly of a death, that is punishable under this order. There's an example of another addition.
MODERATOR: Eve Bauer.
Q Hi, thank you. You mentioned that there would be no emergency contraception provided. And there is the possibility that a woman would face pressure for some kind of a method to terminate a pregnancy if she were found pregnant. Is this something that you have qualms about?
GEN. CUCOLO: I've been asked this several times.
First, it's my soldier's choice. But here we are in a combat zone, and what happens is, as soon as the female soldier's identified as being pregnant, she is put into a cycle to return home. There is -- and she is sent home to receive the medical care she desires, and deserves. And that's -- she can't get the kind of medical care here.
I would want my soldiers to understand the reason, and I really -- I really believe they do understand the reason behind this. And I would certainly not want them to feel pressured in any way. The only pressure I want them to feel is to feel commitment to their team.
MODERATOR: Jessica Marcus.
Q Thank you. General, have other commanders at your level shown any interest in instituting similar provisions over their command?
GEN. CUCOLO: I'll tell you what: I know -- I know it may not seem like it back there, but we're going 110 miles an hour, and other commanders haven't even talked to me about this. So the answer to your question is, no. I'm sorry, I should just -- but no, no one else.
MODERATOR: Justin Fishel.
Q Hi, General. I'm wondering what you would say to a female soldier who wanted to remain in combat, who wanted to remain in theater. Would you really tell her there's not appropriate medical care, you couldn't -- you couldn't do that, you couldn't provide that for her -- someone who didn't consider themselves handicapped by the pregnancy and thought they had the ability to fight?
GEN. CUCOLO: Well, just -- there's one answer. If you are a pregnant female in a combat zone, you are redeployed. Period. And I -- that's actually not my call. That's just what we do.
Q And you really don't --
MODERATOR: The last one on the list I have -- the last person on the list is Kristie McCluny.
Q I'll pass. Thank you.
Q I joined the call late. Could I possibly weigh in? It's Kate Snow with --
MODERATOR: Who do we have here?
Q It's Kate Snow, with ABC News.
MODERATOR: Okay. This will be the last -- the last question, please.
Q General, could you name the other senior women that you spoke with about this policy change? You said you spoke with them before you implemented the new policy. And also, we talked to the National Organization of Women this afternoon, and they're inflamed about this. They say holding women to a different standard than men is unacceptable. They say that you may be helping your soldiers, but you're trampling on the rights of your female soldiers.
GEN. CUCOLO: How am I holding my female soldiers to a different standard than my men?
Q Well, they're sent home and the men are not.
GEN. CUCOLO: That's right. The men stay in combat, and the women are sent home because they're pregnant, but both receive the same punishment, unless there are other circumstances. Both receive the same punishment.
Does the National Organization for Women think staying in the combat zone is -- okay, I'm sorry. The other part of this -- I appreciate the enflamed -- I got it. Here's the deal. I'm the one responsible and I mean this sincerely and I mean this with -- I hope I'm not sounding -- it doesn't matter.
I am the one responsible and accountable for these 22,000 soldiers. The National Organization for Women is not. Critics are not. I appreciate -- I will listen to critics, and they add thought. But they actually don't have to do anything. I have to accomplish a very complex mission, very complex.
We are on the Kurd-Arab fault line up here. We are -- we are moving units, relocating things. It's a very dynamic atmosphere. And I am most concerned about the health, welfare, morale, well-being and fighting ability of every single one of my soldiers. And I'm going to do what it takes to maintain our strength and bring as many home as I can.
I owe that to the American -- I believe the American people expect me to do everything I can to keep every one of the soldiers -- that their money, their taxpayer dollars, trained and got ready for this -- in the fight.
And gang, I'm afraid, I'm actually a little bit late for something. I apologize. Those were all excellent questions. And I have to sign off.
Q Is there an answer to the women that support you as well? I'm sorry to interrupt.
GEN. CUCOLO: I prefer not to. I prefer not to give you their names, because I haven't asked them if that's okay. You're welcome to talk to my public affairs officer on e-mail and get connected with any of my female soldiers that I did talk to. But I'd rather not just throw their names out right now.
Thanks very much, everybody.
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