This photo is more than just that of a mother breastfeeding her child. This photo is more than just that of a member of the Air Force Reserves breastfeeding her toddler in uniform. This is a photo that shows us what motherhood in the military looks like. This photo shows us a mother who is both beautiful and strong. This photo shows us a mother who is both a nurturer and a fighter. This photo shows us a mother who is a protector of both her child and her country. This photo shows us a mother who wears her uniform with honor and professionalism while giving her child the very best start in life. This is a photo of Jonea Cunico, SSGT (E-5), Aircraft Electrical and Environmental Specialist and mother to Joshua Jr (14 months old).
I interviewed Jonea, after her photo appeared on Jade Beall Photography’s FB Page, to find more about the woman in this powerful photograph.
BFinCB: Tell me a little bit about yourself and why you joined the military.
Jonea: I’m 25 years old. I joined the military when I was 20, in May of 2010. My father and grandfather are vets. It was my honor to serve after such great men! I met my husband at work. We were in the same unit at the time. We were married Oct 2013 and our beautiful little boy Joshua Jr was born January 2014. When we found out I was pregnant my husband and I decided that I would continue to serve at a different pace and join the Air Force Reserves. Joining the Reserves was a tough decision to make, but it is one that works great for my family.
BFinCB: Why did you decide to breastfeed?
Jonea: I don’t feel like I ever “decided” to breastfeed. It was something that I always knew I would do; whether it was pumped into a bottle or from my breast. I knew that breast milk was recommended by pediatricians and is what is best for our babies. I’ve always been a logical thinker and if breast was best then that’s what I was going to do! Breastfeeding was rough for me at the beginning. We dealt with a bad latch followed by a round of thrush before things got better. My son was gaining weight perfectly so I toughed it out and pushed through. I’m so glad that I did, breastfeeding has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done! Seeing how your body can nourish your baby even outside of the womb is just amazing!
BFinCB: What has your experience of breastfeeding in the military been like?
Jonea: My experience breastfeeding and pumping in the military has been nothing put positive. The first day at my unit I was very clear with my supervisor that I was breastfeeding my son and that I would need to take precautions when handling chemicals, and that my work on the aircraft would be limited. He was very understanding and didn’t have a problem. I also let him know that I would need a private, clean place to pump while at work. He found me an office right away. I have to admit that I was a bit shy about asking about pumping and breastfeeding. I wasn’t sure if a predominantly male unit would be supportive and/or understanding of my needs as a nursing mother. I was pleasantly surprised with how well everyone handled it and supported my decision. Whenever I need to take a pumping break I just excuse myself from whatever is going on and do what I need to. No questions asked, no awkward moments. I love my unit and they have definitely contributed to my success as a nursing mother.
BFinCB: What are your thoughts on breastfeeding in uniform?
Jonea: Nursing in uniform is just that, nursing in uniform. I am a mother. Breastfeeding is a part of motherhood for me. If I am wearing my uniform, and my son needs his “milkies”, then we nurse. When I fell pregnant I went through the AFI’s to find out policies and regulations that dealt with breastfeeding. When I didn’t find any I assumed that it wasn’t even an issue that needed an AFI (editor note-the Air Force does have an AFI on breastfeeding: 44-102 ). I was happy to see that the breastfeeding laws also applied to the military and felt fully confident and comfortable that breastfeeding and continuing to serve my country wouldn’t be an issue. I am proud of the Air Force, and all of the branches of our military, for being so supportive to mothers whether they breastfeed or not. At least we have options. (If you remember, back in 2012 a huge controversy blew up regarding breastfeeding in uniform when two Air National Guard mothers were photographed breastfeeding in uniform for a campaign to promote breastfeeding in the military. Jonea was contacted by Air Force officials who stated that, “They see nothing wrong with this photo”).
Thank you Jonea for sharing your thoughts on breastfeeding, motherhood and the military and also for sharing your beautiful, empowering photo with our readers! And thank you for Giving the Breast for Baby and Country!
This is the first in a series of posts highlighting mothers in the military who are breastfeeding in combat boots. If you would like to be a part of this series, please send an email to BFinCB@icloud.com with your story and photo(s). Did you like this post? Leave a comment below.