Higgins, 22, was recently called up for active duty in the Army and ordered to report to Fort Jackson in South Carolina on Nov. 11. The recall orders, dated Oct. 10 but not received in the mail until Oct. 16, state that Higgins will be at Fort Jackson for up to 25 days for training for mobilization and then will support Iraqi Freedom for up to 400 days.
"It's just devastating," said Higgins' mother, Pattie Hurd. "Why would anyone think you would want a postpartum mom who has a bad knee in basic training?"
But all the Army told Higgins was to file an exemption request. So Higgins and her family have been trying to gather every document possible to show that there is no one who can take care of baby Gabriela.
"You have to put in everything you can possibly think of. They can't have any new reasons added later," Hurd said.
These include a letter from the pediatrician stating that this period is crucial in development for the baby and mother to bond. Higgins' husband, Daniel Higgins, 24, just started at the six-month police academy with the Oakland Police Department, and Oakland police wrote aletter stating his hours, which change every day, make him unavailable to be able to take care of Gabriela. For the Higgins, Daniel's becoming a police officer is a career they chose as a family so that he would be able to support their child.
Ashleigh's mother also just had shoulder surgery, so she is unable to pick up the baby, and Daniel's father, who lives five hours away, said that he cannot take responsibility for the child.
Still, Ashleigh knows that exemptions are usually 100 percent denied the first time. There was no information in her packet or on the Fort Jackson mobilization Web site about how to file for an exemption. When she called the Army Human Resources Team in St. Louis for help, someone e-mailed her a Web site with a link to the exemption document.
But mainly, Ashleigh said she was told, "I've seen people with worse situations than yours, so good luck."
Ashleigh also was advised that she could get a lawyer, but upon calling the judge advocate general Army lawyers, was told that no one would talk to her until after she re-enlisted Nov. 11.
Higgins enlisted in March 2005 at age 19, in order to get the money for school. She injured her knee in jump school in Georgia and served a year and a half in Korea, where she and Daniel met within a week of arriving.
"You get to know people a lot faster than in civilian life," she said.
They were both military police, which is how she is scheduled to deploy to Iraq and could include many things such as guarding convoys. Daniel Higgins served five years including tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.
When Ashleigh became pregnant in spring 2006, she said the military doctors did not help her.
"It doesn't benefit them for me to be pregnant," she added.
She said she asked for a discharge in her first trimester, but only got screamed at and threw up in the office. Physical activity is the military's usual punishment, and being pregnant was no exception she was made to do push-ups and run, she said. When Higgins was discharged in July 2006, she also was told to pay back her signing bonus.
She was reclassified into the Individual Ready Reserves, a branch that can be called up at any time. However, her sister-in-law was fully discharged when she became pregnant and left in the summer of 2005, transferred to inactive reserves. Higgins said the military never discussed this option with her when she filed her paperwork.
"I was never given a choice," Higgins said.
One of the most frustrating things about military paperwork is that it is worded so that orders can be changed at any time, Higgins and her family say.
Even her orders for service overseas, nearly 14 months, are not certain.
"... not to exceed 400 days unless extended or termed by proper authority," the orders state.
Ashleigh and Daniel both say that when they signed up for military service for the usual eight years, new servicemen and women were always told no one gets called up for active duty after they serve their initial years.
"It's one of those things like an urban legend," Ashleigh said. "You never actually hear people get called back. They just try to keep it quiet."
Daniel was in disbelief over the letter, having never in his five years of active service heard of someone being called to active duty.
"I thought it was just a training," he said.
The choices are bleak. If Higgins does not report to Ft. Jackson, then she could be declared AWOL (absent without leave), court-martialed and sent to military jail. Plus, she could be dishonorably discharged. Her husband said that the first question asked when he applied to the Oakland Police Department was what type of discharge he received, and if it had been dishonorable, he wouldn't have stood a chance.
Higgins faxed in her request for an exemption to the Army by the Nov. 1 deadline, but may not learn her status until after she reports to Ft. Jackson.
"They are issuing recall orders as a way of not calling a draft," Hurd said. "They're not bringing troops home; they just rotate them out."
A letter for information nearly a week ago from the re-enlistment department at Ft. Jackson brought no response.
A Wikipedia.org page on the "Individual Ready Reserves" published while this article was being researched has links to the numbers of troops from the Individual Ready Reserves who have been activated for the Global War on Terror since July 2004.
The "Stars and Stripes" military newspaper reported Sept. 7 that the Marine Corps hopes to send 1,500 Marines from the Individual Ready Reserves to Iraq in the first half of 2008. It said the Corps had sent letters to 2,000 Marines in the IRR telling them they would be screened for a possible recall and included specialties such as intelligence, combat service support, communications and military police.
"You're a soldier first and a mother second," Higgins said while holding her daughter. "Everything comes after the military."