In a move for equality across the branches, yesterday, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter made a sweeping cut in maternity leave for Sailors and Marines. The decree from the top is in direct opposition to a move made just months ago by Ray Mabus Secretary of the Navy. In July 2015, Mabus tripled maternity leave for Marines and Sailors to 18 weeks, up from their previous six weeks of leave, which is the accepted civilian standard.
The new guideline for all service branches will be 12 weeks of maternity leave for female Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guard personnel. Paternity leave for males will be 14 days, an increase from the current 10-day leave for the birth of a child in the family. The new mandate doubles maternity leave for Air Force and Army members. Carter’s rollback for the Navy and Marines’ maternity leave highlights obvious differences in opinions at the Pentagon level.
Carter also announced plans to create 3,600 new private breast-feeding spaces across the country. The new initiative will put breast-feeding rooms in all military buildings that have more than 50 female employees. Currently, approximately 17 percent of the nation’s fighting force is female.
The new changes are driven largely by concerns about retention. Secretary Carter added this:
“Women at peak ages for starting a family leave the military at the highest rates.”
In recent months, news concerning female roles in the military has sucked the oxygen out of other top military stories, including additional boots on the ground in the Middle East. When Secretary Carter announced that women would be allowed to serve in all capacities in the military, to include infantry positions, Navy SEALs, the Army’s Delta Force, and Green Beret units, military personnel and civilians had widespread opinions.
The harshest criticisms about pregnant females come from within the ranks. Pregnant warriors are immediately assigned light-duty, taking them away from their assigned job. After eight months of light duty, the female warrior is then given three months of maternity leave. This takes the war-fighter from her unit and her job for nearly a year; often she then makes the decision to leave the military altogether. Training Soldiers is expensive business and all service branches do what they can to retain their warriors.
One seasoned Army combat medic, deployed to Iraq several year ago, confided to this Examiner that it was common for female Soldiers to intentionally become pregnant to get sent home from the combat zone.
The question will always be, who fills the boots of the infantry and Special Forces warfighter when she leaves the combat zone due to a pregnancy? With a force reduction like the military has experienced in the last two years, civilians wonder if America has an adequate fighting force.