Obama's quarantine remarks draw fire from military spouses

 

President Obama's explanation on why troops coming back from West Africa should be quarantined but not civilian healthcare workers is drawing fire from military spouses.  

In a response he gave during a Tuesday press briefing, the president suggested a 21-day quarantine ordered by the Army was appropriate for soldiers but not for civilian health care workers because troops "are not there voluntarily" and are used to more restrictive conditions. 

ADVERTISEMENT
"It's part of their mission that's been assigned to them by their commanders and ultimately by me, the commander in chief. So we don't expect to have similar rules for our military as we do for civilians. They are already, by definition, if they're in the military, under more circumscribed conditions," he said.

The president went on to say, "When we have volunteers who are taking time out from their families, from their loved ones and so forth to go over there because they have very particular expertise to tackle a very difficult job — we want to make sure that when they come back that we are prudent, that we are making sure that they are not at risk themselves or at risk of spreading the disease — but we don't want to do things that aren't based on science and best practices."

"Because if we do, then we're just putting another barrier on somebody who's already doing really important work on our behalf. And that's not something that I think any of us should want to see happen," he added.

The president's comments sparked immediate criticism online, including from military spouses who said soldiers were also "volunteers" whose time away from family and loved ones was not any less valuable than for civilian volunteers. 

"The President's comments on the differences between the quarantine policies for members of the military and civilian volunteers seemed to dismiss the fact that every member of military has, indeed, volunteered to serve," said Rebekah Gleaves Sanderlin, Army wife and board member for the Military Family Advisory Network.

"In pointing out that the civilian volunteers would be sacrificing time away from their families, the President failed to consider that military members also have families and in this, our 13th year of war, most have already sacrificed years away from their homes and the people they love," Gleaves said. 

Susan Reynolds, an Air Force spouse and columnist whose husband is based at Fort Bragg in North Carolina and is deploying to Liberia on Saturday with Army soldiers, said she was also offended. 

"We are an all-volunteer force. To say that we're not volunteers as well is insulting to us. To say that those healthcare workers' time with their families is more valuable than the time that my husband spends with me and our son — it's very insulting," she said. 

Reynolds said it has only been seven months since her husband returned from serving in Afghanistan, and that their 4-year-old son has faced separation anxiety over his deployments.

"It was a slap in the face from someone who claims to care so much about our military," she said adding that comments from the White House press secretary Josh Earnest earlier in the day were no better. 

Earnest compared the quarantine to soldiers having cut their hair a certain way because it's in the best interest of their unit and a military policy. 

"Those are the kinds of things that have an impact on their day to day personal convenience, but yet they make those sacrifices for the benefit of the broader military," Earnest said during a briefing. 

"We fully recognize and accept that public safety may dictate that 21 additional days apart is necessary, but we don't appreciate our sacrifices being diminished or taken for granted," Sanderlin said. 

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment or clarification of the president's remarks.