DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, Utah — More than 30 technological firsts occurred at the Experimental Demonstration Gateway Event 2022, or EDGE 22, but the annual exercise was more than just a win for U.S. Army modernization — it also benefitted Utah and Southern Idaho moms and babies.
As breastfeeding moms away from their nurslings, Sarah Crosbie and Maj. Cassandra Perkins were on another own mission during EDGE22 — to pump and donate their breast milk to the Mountain West Mothers’ Milk Bank during their stay at Dugway Proving Ground.
“When I realized I would have to pump at EDGE, the question became, what do you do with it? It breaks my heart to even think about dumping it, but I also didn’t need it back home,” said Crosbie, Army Test and Evaluation Command coordinator for the Future Vertical Lift Cross-Functional Team.
“As I was preparing to head out to Utah and start my pumping journey of providing this lifesaving ‘liquid gold’ to these other babies it made the time away from my own baby worthwhile and purposeful,” said Perkins, Battalion Operations Officer for the 2-82nd Assault Helicopter Battalion.
While at Dugway the two carved time out of their busy schedules to pump, despite the high operational tempo of the exercise.
“Just like anything in life, if you want to make it happen you will find the time,” Perkins said.
Crosbie and Perkins were not actually aware of what the other was doing until a week in when the bank suggested linking the two women up. The Army civilian and 82nd Airborne Division Soldier began comparing notes on how they were able to both meet the Army’s mission, and their needs as a mom, during EDGE 22. Upon Perkins’ arrival to Dugway, a pumping area was all set up for her, with plenty of refrigerator space in both the main hangar and barracks to store her supply. Leaders and teammates were very understanding, Crosbie said.
“I think the biggest limitation has been myself,” Crosbie said. “At an event like this, you’re busy, you want to keep the train moving. Before you know it, you realize, ‘Shoot, I need to duck out and take care of things.’ Everyone has been very accommodating. Nobody blinked an eye — in fact multiple people offered up their office space as a private area to pump.”
As a member of the Human Milk Bank Association of North America, Mountain West Mothers’ Milk Bank screens all donors, which includes a blood test, and pasteurizes and tests donated milk. While they have had donors travel and donate milk while on vacation, Crosbie and Perkins’ situation was a first for the milk bank.
Their selfless actions highlighted the importance of the new Parenthood, Pregnancy and Postpartum Army Directive, released in April. The new directive includes 12 distinct policy changes, including a modification to existing lactation accommodations, requiring lactation breaks and a designated area for lactating Solders up to 24 months after birth, aligning with American Academy of Pediatrics lactation recommendations.
“Together, while they were here they donated a combined total of more than 1,000 ounces. That is amazing, and it definitely shows that the Army is dedicated to providing adequate time and support to Soldiers who are away from their nursling babies,” said Mary Callahan, clinical coordinator for Mountain West Mothers’ Milk Bank. “We are so grateful for their service to our country and to the fragile babies within Utah and Southern Idaho. Their lifesaving generosity will go far.”
Crosbie was able to drop her first donation off directly to a Salt Lake City area hospital’s Labor and Delivery unit. Between the baby formula shortage in the news, seeing the Newborn Intensive Care Unit and missing her own baby, the impact of her donations hit home.
“It just felt so worth it,” Crosbie said. “The effort, all the challenges logistically, with trying to squeeze it in around meetings and events — it made it all worth it to see where it was going.”
Perkins agreed, especially after struggling with a low milk supply for the first few months after giving birth. For 12 weeks she pumped every two hours, around the clock, until she was able to produce enough milk for her son.
“My motto during this time was, ‘She believed she could, so she did,’ so the fact that I was now able to also provide for these [neonatal intensive care unit] babies made me feel so fortunate,” Perkins said. “My heart goes out to all those mothers whose babies are in the [neonatal intensive care unit], and I was more than happy to help ease some of their worry by providing this ‘liquid gold’ to help those little miracles.”