Former soldier speaks out about delays in protecting pregnant women

Hannah and Pvt. Shelton
Born in Combat
Born in Combat

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — There's growing outrage across the country over what happened to an Indiana soldier and her baby born in combat.

13 Investigates uncovered how Private Ashley Shelton was sent into a war zone despite five positive pregnancy tests.

Now another woman who was in the same unit is speaking out about the army's delay in getting pregnant soldiers out of harms way.

For the first time, those who saw it firsthand are providing a closer look at the culture of pregnant women in the military and what they called an attitude of annoyance that puts some of them at risk.

Away from army ranks and miles from Indiana a 26-year-old former soldier is stepping forward to talk about what happened to a comrade.

"It's time people understand," said Hannah, who asked 13 Investigates to use only her first name for privacy reasons.

Military documents and photos show connected military careers for the two women.

Hannah shared the same rank and worked alongside Pvt. Shelton in the same battalion, same company and the same platoon.

Hannah was was set to deploy to Afghanistan but did not go once the Army determined she was pregnant. Photo by: Hannah

"I was surprised that they deployed her pregnant," Hannah said in disbelief after learning Shelton was sent into combat pregnant despite five positive pregnancy tests.

Former Soldier Speaks About Delays in Protecting Pregnant Service Members

In 2012, both soldiers were supposed to deploy to Afghanistan, and both had multiple positive pregnancy tests months before they were set to leave that May.

"I was just scared because I had seen other girls losing their babies," Hannah revealed. She said as many as three soldiers in her company had already had miscarriages.

Like Ashley, Hannah said her first positive pregnancy tests were deemed false positives by "flight doctors" in the clinic. She said the doctors who were in charge of several battalions of soldiers blamed her high hCG pregnancy hormone levels on a miscarriage she had three months earlier.

"I called B.S.," Hannah said using the initials of a slang term to express her disbelief of her medical diagnosis. "I kept pushing it. I had to push it myself," she added.

Hannah said doctors then sent her tests sent off to a lab for a final Army determination. While awaiting results, she said she continued to work in the motor pool getting vehicles and fuel ready for the war zone.

"It took them over a month, over a month to actually tell me that I was pregnant. Until it was hardcore confirmed, they didn't care," she said, referring to the Army's concern over her exposure to hazards on the job.

Hannah credits the non-commissioned officer in command for deciding to take some precautionary steps. She said he gave her a desk job until she got her "pregnancy profile" status. That's an official army determination restricting a soldier from hard physical training, heavy lifting, harsh chemicals and deployment.

Eventually Hannah said she received her reassignment orders to the "Rear Detachment Unit" where soldiers who can't deploy are sent.

"There was about 9 or 10 girls on "Rear D" for pregnancy with me," she revealed.

Fellow Soldiers Hear Rumors of Possible Pregnancy

At the time, Hannah and Pvt. Shelton were at odds after a falling out. The two women were not speaking to one another. Hannah said there were rumors Shelton was pregnant, but no one believed it and she didn't ask. She had no idea her one time friend was getting deployed despite multiple, positive pregnancy tests. Hannah said while she was visibly showing early on, Pvt. Shelton was thin and didn't look pregnant at all.

Medical records show five positive pregnancy tests before the military deployed Pvt. Ashley Shelton to Afghanistan.

Hannah and the other pregnant women remained in the rear detachment until they started prenatal classes away from the motor pool and the fuel.

At the same time, Pvt. Shelton was told by Army doctor, Jonathan Richard Coyle, that he was convinced there was no baby.

In explosive medical records obtained by 13 Investigates last February, Coyle said he did not "feel (Shelton) was actually pregnant," and that "human anti-mouse antibodies (caused) a false positive result."

Additional medical paperwork confirmed what Shelton first told 13 Investigates about Dr. Coyle sending blood work out to a lab for an official ruling. But he still deemed her "Deployable" and cleared her for combat. The results of that blood test would have made the sixth pregnancy test for Private Shelton. She has never been provided those results.

"By the time they got the blood test back, I was already deployed to Afghanistan," Pvt. Shelton told 13 Investigates in November 2017, underscoring the fact that the Army did not wait to find out the results before deploying her to combat duties.

Hannah gave birth to a healthy baby girl at a Germany hospital in July 2012.

Nearly a month later on August 15, Shelton gave birth in a latrine to a near full-term baby boy in a war zone.

"Why? Why? Why did you deploy me?," is the question Ashley has asked and still wants answered.

"One day you're a soldier, the next day you're a mommy."

Hannah said it's unfair Shelton missed all of the milestones most expectant mothers get to enjoy.

"Going to an ultrasound and seeing your baby kicking for the first time, hearing the heartbeat for the first time ... all of that experience where you get a 'heads up,' she said.

She got no heads up.

"One day you're a soldier, the next day you're a mommy," she said.

Hannah also recalled the widespread disbelief at hearing the news that Shelton had given birth in Afghanistan.

"All of a sudden we get told 'Yeah Shelton's on her way home. She had baby down range.' No, no, no, no, no. There's no way that could have happened!'" she said recalling the general reaction.

After the birth, Hannah said the Army went silent, even as false information spread claiming Shelton cheated her pregnancy tests.

WTHR Reports Prompt Outrage

Now six years later after seeing WTHR's reports online, Hannah and other former soldiers who reached out to 13 Investigates are outraged to learn what really happened.

"There's no excuse for it," Hannah said. "In my book there's no excuse for it and just makes me sad."

Former Army Private Hannah tells Sandra Chapman about her experience as a pregnant soldier.

Hannah and soldiers with knowledge of the Army's process believe part of the problem is the culture towards pregnant soldiers.

They say men are celebrated for fatherhood, but it's a different story for female soldiers.

"A girl gets pregnant, it's um, 'We just lost another one!'" Hannah said. "They look at it as a nuisance."

After pondering the circumstances in 2012, Hannah added another possible explanation.

"I think it was because they didn't have enough room in headquarters to move all the pregnant women," she said thinking back to the the number of women who were reassigned to the Rear Detachment Unit.

Still she can't wrap her mind around a doctor sending a 20-year-old pregnant woman into combat.

"That is the worst place to think it was acceptable to send a pregnant woman. The worst place. He (Dr. Coyle) shouldn't haven't been allowed to do that, and she shouldn't have gone through that hell," said Pvt. Shelton's fellow soldier.

Army Doctor's License Renewed Amid Nebraska Investigation

13 Investigates has learned that Coyle was granted an extension as the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services conducted an investigation on him. The case has been forwarded on to the Nebraska Medical Board for review and is scheduled for hearing on October 12, 2018. If the Medical Board finds cause for discipline the case will then be turned over to the Nebraska Attorney General's Office.

The Army has yet to provide any information about Pvt. Shelton and her birth in combat.

13 Investigates is still awaiting more military records.

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