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Many recent reports have highlighted the difficulties some single parents and military couples face in caring for their children when the service members are deployed to potential combat areas.

But these reports fail to recognize that military service requires first and foremost that service members be deployable - deployable on short notice and regardless of their personal situation.Otherwise the responsiveness, readiness and capability of military units are impaired. Our volunteer force understands that.

Service members who can't or won't deploy because of personal circumstances request to leave the military. If the circumstances preventing deployment are temporary, then the services are usually able to defer deployment or reassign the service member until their circumstances permit deployment.

The services have flexible and well-understood procedures for dealing with these cases and discharge from the military is a last resort.

This requirement to be deployable can be especially difficult for some military couples and single parents. The services recognize this and their policies strike a balance between the needs of the service and military requirements on the one hand and the needs of children and the career aspirations and career progression of service members on the other.

The services respect the parents' authority and judgment regarding what's best for their families and children.

This approach has worked well for years. It has worked well because we have an all-volunteer force in which the risks and rewards of service are well understood and preparation for deployments is part of everyday life.

The current deployment to southwest Asia is the largest in recent memory, but it is the sort of occasion for which our service members prepare and train.

Legislation that has been proposed to solve this so-called problem is unnecessary. The services have already faced up to the problems, and we are constantly reviewing our polices and procedures to ensure they are reasonable and consistent across the services.

All the services grant six-week paid maternity leaves after birth (something few civilian employers grant). Further paid leave and exemptions from the requirement to deploy are common and are granted on a case-by-case basis.

A wide variety of family services on military bases - child care, family centers, quality schools and housing, an extensive network of volunteer support groups - make the military very pro-family. These services also ease the stress and other difficulties associated with deployments.

But legislation is not just unnecessary, it's undesirable. In the short run, it would create a special class of service members - a class composed of members who don't share the burdens and responsibilities of military service but wish to continue sharing in the benefits of that service.

In the long run, the proposed legislation would work against single parents and joint military couples. They won't - and shouldn't - receive training, assignments and promotions given to their comrades in arms who can deploy and risk their lives in defense of their country.

For these reasons, the Department of Defense strongly opposes this legislation.

(Christopher Jehn is assistant secretary of Defense for Force Management and Personnel.)