The military is a highly demanding career path for men and women. Frequent moves, deployments, and fixed incomes make it difficult for any person considering starting a family. Often, military spouses stay at home due to the difficulty finding work for brief unpredictable periods of time. Husbands frequently miss births and milestones in their children’s lives. And for women who are in the military, they face short maternity leaves, strict post-pregnancy PRT standards, and the risk of leaving a new baby for a deployment. This lifestyle is not for the faint of heart.
The women who join the military are a unique breed. They are smart, confident, and motivated. And more of these women are joining the ranks every day. Women officially began serving in the military in 1901 with the foundation of the Army Nurse Corps. In 2011, women made up over 14% of all military members. However, after 115 years of women in the service, many women still feel forced to choose between their career and their families. Often times, they serve until they begin to have children, and then choose a more flexible career path. With the nature of what the military does, it is impossible to make it a completely family-friendly career choice for women. Yet, the military is beginning to recognize the loss of talent when these women decide to leave the military to be mothers.
Recently, the Air Force Times published some statements claiming that they are looking at adjusting the maternity and paternity leave. Currently, the Air Force allows 6 weeks for maternity leave and 10 days for paternity leave. The proposal is to increase maternity leave to 18 weeks. They have recently increased their post-partum non-deployment status from 6 months to a year. As well as decreased their post-partum PRT requirements from 6 months to a year. They are attempting to make staying in the military easier on the women who want to have a career and a family. The Air Force has the most defined lactation policies stating that a breastfeeding mother is allowed a break up to 30 minutes every 4 hours to pump in an appropriate place, not located in a toilet space. The Air Force offers the standard DoD consecutive 21 day adoption leave during the first year of adoption. This leave is only applicable to one parent in dual-military marriages.
The Navy and Marine Corps had set the forefront in some of these changes. They were the first to increase their maternity leave to 18 weeks in a policy implemented this past summer. They also allow mothers the flexibility to utilize their maternity leave any time within the first year of their child’s birth. Paternity leave is currently set at 10 days. Unfortunately, men can only apply for paternity leave if married to the child’s mother. The Navy, like the Air Force, is also considering an increase in paternity leave. Though the Navy and Marine Corps follow the same non-deployable status for 12 months following a delivery that the Air Force does, they still requires a PRT to be performed 6 months after delivery. They also offer 6 months deployment deferment to mothers who give birth to a still-born child. Additionally, the Navy and Marine Corps have followed the Air Force precedence for breastfeeding, requiring a clean, private space not located in a toilet area for pumping. They further require commands to offer cool storage areas for breastmilk. New mothers in the Navy can also request to breastfeed infants during working hours, which is handled on a case-by-case basis with the Command. The Navy also offers 21 days of adoption leave to one parent and does not address non-deployment status after adoption.
While the Navy, Marines and the Air Force have been making their branches more appealing to new parents, the Army is only in the review process of their maternity and paternity policies. They currently allow 6 weeks for maternity leave and 10 days of paternity leave to new married fathers that must be used within the first 45 days of the child’s life. The postpartum non-deployment status for soldiers is 6 months. The Army does include adoptive parents in their policy stating that one parent is non-deployable for 6 months after the child is placed in the home. The Army is also intensely reviewing their vague lactation support policies to encourage new mothers who choose to breastfeed. A new policy passed in June 2015, required the Army to provide clean, private areas with electrical outlets for pumping and breaks to allow breastfeeding mothers to pump, though specifics of implementation are left to command interpretation. The Army does not address non-deployment status after an adoption but does follow a 21 day leave policy for one parent.
The Coast Guard is also following suit in reviewing their maternity leave. to expand their current policy to adopt the 18 week leave that the Navy and Marines have implemented. They have a current policy with 6 weeks of leave following the birth of a new baby. The Coast Guard also offers a 2 year career intermission for women, though many of these women do not return to service. Women who take advantage of this option do not receive pay. New mothers are expected to be within height and weight standards within 6 months of delivery, but may have a waiver for up to 12 months if breastfeeding. The Coast Guard offers married spouses 10 days of leave after the birth of a baby. Their breastfeeding policy also requires a clean, private area for pumping when possible and restrictions on deployment for 6 months postpartum. The Coast Guard also offers the standard 21 consecutive days for adoption leave. Adoption leave can only apply to one parent in a dual military family, as with the other services.
These changes that have been brought forth have been small steps in the right direction for helping women balance work and family within the military. There are many changes that will be coming in the near future for new parents. It is essential that these policies continue to be improved to preserve the talent of the women who are called to serve. As the new policy changes are encouraging for new military moms, the military must also consider more liberal family policies as the dynamics of American families continue to change. With the acceptance of the LGBT community in the military with the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2010, there must be a push for adapting these policies to include more paternity leave, adjusting adoption leaves, and expanding leaves for new parents who are not married. The military, founded on a basis of history and tradition, must work to find a new balance with evolution of society.