SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. - Army civilian personnel specialist Tracey Leven recalls the time she tried to use a breast pump to express milk in a military office years ago. Instead of "breast pump in use," she was required to put a sign on the door reading, "occupied." That didn't stop two male soldiers from using their keys to open the locked office.
"They were surprised. I was covered up, so there wasn't any kind of issue," said Leven, 29, who works at 3rd Army headquarters in South Carolina. Now the Luling, Texas, native said she is expecting her second child and looks forward to the privacy the new room will provide.
With Mother's Day today, she and other women civilian employees, women in uniform and mothers visiting this command headquarters here say they're pleased they won't have to hide in an office or restroom if they want to nurse or express breast milk to give to an infant later.
The high-tech 3rd Army headquarters at Shaw Air Force Base is one of the rare U.S. military installations where a decidedly low-tech lactation room has been set aside for mothers.
"I am excited and happy about the idea of this room, because I didn't have the best-case scenario" last time, said Leven, who also is an Army spouse.
The women are celebrating the room as a small victory in an overwhelmingly male-dominated military.
Over the past decade, many changes have come about: Men and women have found themselves fighting side-by-side. More than 280,000 women have been sent to Iraq, Afghanistan and neighboring nations. And women make up about 14 percent of the 1.4 million active U.S. military personnel in uniform around the world today.
For nursing mothers at 3rd Army headquarters, a room of their own signals progress.
The room - named the "Third Army Nursing Center" - blends in with other offices along a central hallway. It's outfitted with privacy screens, chairs, tables, a refrigerator, a freezer and a microwave.
"I'm hoping now, more women will nurse," said Army spouse Dianna Troyer, 27, as she cradled 1-month-old David.
Her husband works in the command center.
Accompanied by 3-year-old daughter Rebekah, Troyer said having a private place to nurse helps promote healthy children and their families.
The women said the idea for the room came from a support group dubbed "Sisters-in-Arms," formed last year by senior female officers and enlisted women to help women in the command balance their work and private lives. And key to its being accepted, the women said, was the support of the 3rd Army commander, Lt. Gen. Vincent Brooks.
Brooks said in an email that he considered it important.
"Women are part of our formations and have been for a long time. It's a very simple way to help them balance service with the unique role that they can play," the general said.
A spokeswoman for the 3rd Army and Sisters-in-Arms, Lt. Col. Catina Barnes-Ricks, said there are about 850 men and 200 women in the 3rd Army headquarters. She said several dozen women are expected to use the new room at first - and maybe more once other women of child-bearing age become aware of it.