Hard Times For Military Moms

The Early Show, Elisabeth Richey, a 23-year-old sergeant in the Army Reserves, is also a wife to Chris and mother to 7-month-old Victoria.
CBS/The Early Show
They have served in the armed forces since the Revolutionary War, but it wasn't until the Persian Gulf War that the United States troops were referred to as the men and women of the military.

During that war, female soldiers made up almost 10 percent of the force — the largest percentage in history, until now.

As the U.S. prepares for another war against Iraq, even more American women are being deployed than were during Desert Storm. And with the unprecedented numbers come unprecedented concerns, particularly among women who are both soldiers and mothers.

"The differences when I enlisted and for women in the service today are exponentially changed," says Maj. Gen. Karol Kennedy.

Kennedy has two stars, but when she joined the Army in 1963, she couldn't do much beyond clerical or medical work. "In the Army that I served, I could not even be a mother," she says. "We could not have families. No dependents under the age of 18."

That changed in the mid-1970s. Today, more mothers are in service and on the frontlines than ever before.

Elisabeth Richey, a 23-year-old sergeant in the Army Reserves, is also a wife to Chris and mother to 7-month-old Victoria.

"When I first got the call, it was about two weeks ago," recalls Sgt. Richy. "About 10 minutes later, the initial shock was over and I said, "Okay. It's my turn to go serve my country."

Richy is now trying to take her departure in stride, but Chris says he cannot.

"It's going to be hard," he says. "I'm scared, nervous for her. She is going to miss the first crawl, the first word, which is probably going to be 'Daddy.'"

And that, Sgt. Richy admits, is what makes things a little more difficult.

"When you're on active duty in the military, regardless if you're a man or you're a woman, you're a soldier," she says. "I mean, there are differences, very obviously. No matter what anybody says, the mother has a bond with a child that a father will never have."

Chris says he doesn't believe anybody ever thinks about the mother leaving to go to war.

"I mean, nobody wants the Mom to go," he explains.

"There are always conflicts between what you want to give to your family and what you have to give to the job," says Lori Manning, a military historian. "I don't think that is unique to the women. It's just unique, perhaps, seeing the women having that sort of conflict. Usually, they were the ones left behind, waiting for the men to come home."

Today's military provides many support services for when one or both of the parents is sent away on duty.

"It's not just because of women in the military," says Manning. "It's because so many of the men in the military have working spouses now. That didn't used to be the case."

Sergeant First Class Lisa Vereen is being shipped out for her second deployment in less than a year. But, for the soon-to-be-divorced mother of two, planning for the frontlines goes hand-in-hand with her focus on the home front.

"It's not an ordinary job," she says. "At any time, you could be called up. You walk around with that -- that part still behind -- in the back of your mind. Of course, you do everything you have to do on a regular basis, taking care of family. But at the same time, you're a soldier, too."

The women say they are soldiers trying to make the best world for their children.

"The best way I could probably explain it to her would be simply: 'I was protecting your future and your freedom,'" says Richey. "And hopefully, she'll understand that. She will definitely understand."