Inside of Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), there is a small room that appears to be an ordinary office, but inside is a small oasis and a giant victory for new mothers in the unit.
The Proud American Lactation Support Room is the first of its kind in the brigade that supports the battalion’s new and expecting mothers. The room is fitted with a refrigerator, microwave, essential items such as breast milk storage bags, lockers and even comfortable rocking chairs to help mothers nurse or pump for their babies.
The room was not always a haven for the artillery women who may need to pump at least two to three times a day while at work. It used to be a storage area for supplies until one Soldier brought her concerns to her command sergeant major.
Specialist Darya Zare, cannon crewmember assigned to A Battery, 2-32nd FAR, is pregnant with twins – a boy and a girl. She is due Aug. 1.
The Proud American Regiment is Zare’s first duty assignment. She was very concerned about having a safe space to pump or nurse her children.
“We work in a male dominant environment so this is not a hot topic to really focus on,” Zare said. “I was planning to breastfeed my babies, but if we don't have a lactation room nearby I might have to sacrifice feeding my children naturally. This was an issue because we shouldn't have to sacrifice our breast milk needed for our kids just because of our work environment."
After bringing the issue to Command Sgt. Maj. Clifford Smith, senior enlisted adviser, 2-32nd FAR, the lactation room was set up in less than a week she said.
Zare and the other Proud American moms did not expect to have a place so quickly and were surprised by their leadership’s response.
“The ladies came to me with their concerns saying they were pumping in the supply room, their car and the NBC room,” Smith said. “I said that wasn’t right. It is federal regulation that all companies provide a mother with a clean and private space to conduct lactation. People are meeting the bare minimum, but I know in our battalion we want to go above and beyond the standard for our Soldiers.”
Smith also was shown various Soldier and mother support group social media posts of how pregnant and new mothers are being treated in the military. Smith and Lt. Col. Christopher Carter, commander, 2-32nd FAR, said they had seen enough.
“I saw a Facebook group and saw the way some Soldiers who are mothers are being treated and it was heartbreaking to me and my wife,” Smith said. “We didn’t want that for our Soldiers here.”
The Proud American senior noncommissioned officer explained although it is difficult to find an appropriate lactation space in a unit’s buildings because they were not built to support such a space, it did not stop the team from figuring out a way to solve the problem for their Soldiers and Families.
“I know for our organization it’s really hard to provide a space especially down at the company level,” Smith said. “So, I had an idea to create one at the battalion level. We found a space suitable but it was filled with supplies. I gave the particular Soldier 24 hours to move the gear to another location. The needs and welfare of our Soldiers mean more to me than a convenient place to store personal supplies. It was up and running in a week’s time.”
Smith, his wife and mothers across the battalion decorated and fitted the old storage room into a proper space to nurse and pump for the “Little Proud Americans.”
Private First Class Letitia Dawson, chaplain assistant, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 2-32nd FAR, gave birth to her second child in November and is happy she will not have to put her baby on formula. After seeing what her sister, who also is in the Army, had to go through to pump breastmilk, she was relieved to see the room come to fruition.
“A lot of the ladies have been known to pump in their office, find a random room or even their vehicles,” Dawson said. “My sister is in the Army and I’ve known her to have to pump in her vehicle. Prior to the room being built, I would have to nurse in the office. I really hate to disturb the chaplain because he’s always in the middle of something and works really hard.”
The lactation room has proven very helpful, she said.
“It’s comfortable in there and has so much in there to help us, especially the nursing bags to put your milk in and the information you can receive straight to your phone using QR codes. I’m just so thankful,” Dawson said.
The Proud American Lactation Room is not just a resource for nursing mothers to some Soldiers, it is the beginning of change and shows the Army cares.
First Lieutenant Sherri Clarke, artillery officer assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 2-32nd FAR, sees the room beyond just a lactation space but an improvement for the Army and a step forward for mothers who are reluctant to have children because of their career.
“I see a big change,” Clarke said. “I feel supported, and I feel secure. This is a People First organization because they are considering not only the work you have to do, but they really consider your Family and your kids at home. It’s a comfortable environment to work in.”
The room also is an area that is going to bring together nursing mothers who can support one another, she said.
“It’s going to show them the Army actually supports them having kids while serving,” Clarke said. “It’s a big fear for women to have kids in the Army, and how others will treat us. This room shows that the Army is very supportive of us having kids and a Family. That fear is now gone for a lot of us thanks to this command.”