Sometimes a person is just in the right place at the right time.
And so it was for Pfc. Katherine Beatty when she learned her chosen military occupational specialty in signal intelligence wasn’t going to work out. Then came an offer too good to pass up.
Why not be the Army’s first female cannoneer?
“They said I could pick a different MOS,” she said of her nine-week holdover after basic combat training. The combat specialty of 13B cannon crewmember was on the list.
“They said there was a lot of heavy lifting, and it’s a pretty high-speed job, and I would be the first female,” she said. “I was pretty excited about it. I called my husband (in Inverness, Florida) He’s infantry and works side by side with 13 Bravos. He told me what to expect, and I just went for it.”
Not only did she pass, she excelled, earning the title of distinguished honor graduate for Class No. 12-16. She was assistant platoon guide and helped teach her peers. She also earned the top scores in several exams and passed her go/no go events, including the High Physical Demand Test, the first time.
She said none of it was easy, especially the first week.
The Army’s new HPDT was in place for the first time, and men and women both need to pass it to graduate from 13B school.
She said the most difficult task was loading and unloading 15 155mm ammunition shells, weighing nearly 100 pounds apiece.
“That was pretty tough,” she said. “We had 15 minutes to do it.”
That means moving 3,000 pounds – a feat even some men couldn’t do.
“I did power lifting and trained with my husband, Charles (before enlisting),” she said of her ability to pass the test. She also went to the gym in her spare time while at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. She said Charles is her hero because of all the support he’s given her.
Beatty earned high praise from her primary AIT instructor, Staff Sgt. Michael Prater, as well as her battle buddies.
“She’s held her own as an APG, as far as leading the Soldiers where they need to be, keeping up with who’s on sick call, who’s in formation, and who’s not,” Prater said after her platoon’s live-fire training in March. “She took good notes and kept up with the training. Pfc. Beatty was an excellent Soldier.”
Pvt. Marc Etinne, one of Beatty’s battle buddies, said initially he wasn’t sure how things were going to work out with a woman in a combat MOS.
“At first I was like, ‘Oh, this is going to be interesting,’” he said. “But then the sergeant talked to us and said anybody in Army green, we have to treat them with respect. She really surprises me with all the physical stuff she can do. She’s been treated just like everybody else. She’s a great Soldier.”
Another battle buddy, Pvt. Jesse Hurtado, agreed. He said having a woman in his 13B class was “awesome.”
“She worked a lot harder than the males did at some point,” he said. “She proved herself. She made her battle buddies push harder because she was there pushing with them. She’s an inspiration, seeing her going through what we’re doing. We all love her. She’s an awesome battle buddy. We all want her to do great in her career.”
Beatty’s platoon specialized in the 105mm lightweight towed M119A3 howitzer. Even though those shells weigh about 30 pounds, all 13B Soldiers need to be able to meet the physical standard with the 155mm shells used in the M777 and the Paladin howitzers. They also need to be able to drag a casualty in combat, so part of the HPDT is to drag a 270-pound skid 20 meters out and back.
Although the physical part of training was grueling, Beatty said she loved it. She and her husband have taken their 2-year-old daughter hiking and lead an active life, she said. Being the first woman wasn’t as much of an obstacle as she thought.
“Everyone treats me like a Soldier, like part of the team,” she said. “There was a lot of positivity from my platoon, the instructors, the NCOs. It’s been really awesome.”
Week 4 of training was hands-on dry fire with the M119A3. March 1, her class fired on the equipment they were trained on. Booms from the M777 and the Paladin interspersed with shots fired from Beatty’s team. Finally, it was her turn.
She fired three rounds, then caught the next gunner’s smoking cartridge when it was ejected, and spent time on the radio and recording firing data. When the last round was called, Prater took out a marker and began writing on the shell. Pens materialized and everyone squeezed in to leave their message on it. Beatty’s read “Miss 13B.”
Then she returned to the radio and called, “last round!” The excited cannoneers echoed her, and rushed the round into the chamber. Prater checked the round, held up his hand, and yelled, “stand by,” for the umpteenth time that day. Then he dropped his arm and yelled, “fire!” The round sped off into the distant hillside, and everyone cheered. Then they started tearing down and had a late lunch of meals, ready to eat.
“Everyone was excited in our platoon. I can definitely say that we had a lot of fun today. This is what we’ve been waiting for,” Beatty said.
Although she hoped to go to Airborne School at Fort Benning, Ga., Beatty was assigned to Fort Carson, Colorado, following her graduation March 11.
Dozens of women have followed in Beatty’s footsteps to train as 13Bs, and plenty more are still to come. Her advice to them: “Go for it. It’s an awesome job. You’ve got to be strong, both physically and mentally, but there’s definitely a lot of support here.”
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey has asked female NCOs to consider transferring into combat arms military occupational specialties.
More than 100 women have volunteered to join the ranks as combat arms Soldiers, but these Soldiers also need female leaders. Dailey said he hopes female NCOs will answer the call and rise to the challenge.
“These young women have demonstrated the drive and desire to take on some of the most challenging assignments the Army offers,” Dailey wrote in a memo to the force Aug. 1. “As young Soldiers do, they will look for leadership and mentorship from their superiors. Unfortunately, we have not had a sufficient number of serving female Soldiers and NCOs volunteer to transfer into these mentorship and leadership roles.”
In April, the Department of Defense opened the remaining combat-arms MOSs to women, including all positions in 19-series armor and 11-series infantry. Dailey said he personally supports the move to remove all gender-based restrictions, and is glad to see anyone who is qualified, male or female, serve the Army in any capacity.
As it has done in the past when integrating women into an MOS, the Army is taking a “leaders first” approach. Placing female leaders in those MOSs before integrating new Soldiers has been made a priority, but finding those leaders has been a challenge. Dailey is asking more female NCOs to make the change to combat arms because there are still not enough female mentors for the new recruits.
“We need leaders to help shape the next generation of combat Soldiers,” Dailey said. “I know we already have female Soldiers with the drive and ability to be successful in ground combat arms formations. If you think you have what it takes, I am personally asking you to consider transferring to combat arms.”
Dailey noted that it will not be easy. Soldiers are required to pass MOS-specific High Physical Demands Tests, for which men and women are graded on the same scale.
“The standards have and always will be very rigorous,” he said. “You will be challenged both mentally and physically. If you are interested in taking on this challenge and leading our Soldiers into the future, please talk to your career counselor today.”
Since February, women have been proving that they have what it takes to be 13B cannon crewmembers, and their NCOs have been guaranteeing each an equal opportunity to rise to the challenge.
“When I first picked this military occupational specialty, I had sergeants telling me it was going to be very hard, that there are going to be males who don’t want me in this job,” said Pvt. Kiara Carbullido, who graduated in June from Advanced Individual Training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. “But then they said there will be NCOs who are going to look out for your best interests and push you to be your best, and I think that is exactly what our sergeants have done for us. They are helping us out, making everything equal between the males and the females. Whatever they can do, we can do.”
The move to open most field artillery MOSs, including 13Bs, to women came in the fall of 2015, months before the decision was made in January to open all combat arms positions to women. The first female cannon crewmember, Pvt. First Class Katherine Beatty, graduated from AIT at the top of her class in March.
Many AIT platoon sergeants at Fort Sill said they never expected to see women in field artillery positions during their careers. All of them, however, said the gender integration training is going well and expressed a positive hope for the future of women in their MOS.
“Before I retire in the next few years, I would love to see one of the females here today become an NCO, become a staff sergeant, become a section chief,” said 1st Sgt. Marlow Parks, first sergeant of C battery, 1st battalion, 78th Field Artillery Regiment. “I can’t wait to see that, to be honest with you. I’m proud that I have had some kind of part in it, making sure that Soldier initially got the foundation she needed in order to advance. To me, it’s a very rewarding job for me and my cadre to train these females, to see the Army change to where we are today. It’s good. When I am long gone and retired, I can see a female command sergeant major in field artillery. She may be here now; you never know. The sky is the limit for all of these Soldiers, male or female.”
AIT for 13Bs
Throughout the first three weeks of AIT, 13Bs learn about the equipment they will be required to use in their jobs. The first week covers the basics of communication. They learn the ins and outs of the radios and how to record firing data. During the second week, they study the ammunition they will fire – 105mm or 155mm rounds – and how to calculate targets. In the third week, they are introduced to the three artillery pieces they may work with: the M777 howitzer, the M119A3 howitzer, and the M109 Paladin self-propelled howitzer.
In the remaining two weeks of AIT, the Soldiers must apply the knowledge they have gained in real-life scenarios and learn how to work as a team. During the fourth week, each platoon takes their specified howitzer into a field near the motor pool for dry-fire training. The Soldiers run crew drills for the first time on the actual weapon. A live fire is conducted during the fifth and final week of training, and each crewmember must fire three shells to qualify on one of the howitzers.
No matter which howitzer a platoon works with, each crewmember must pass the High Physical Demand Test to graduate from AIT. The test levels the playing field, said Staff Sgt. Michael Prater, an AIT instructor for C battery, 1st battalion, 78th Field Artillery. It’s difficult, and the requirements are the same. Both men and women are graded on the same scale.
“I have no problem with females being integrated into this MOS,” Prater said. “They are just like any other individual. It depends on whether they can stand up to the physical demands of being a 13B. That’s the reason they have to pass the Army Physical Fitness Test as soon as they get here, and then they go into the HPDT, where I have seen males fail just as much as females. It depends on the physical attributes of that person. Are they able to handle that stress? Able to handle those different MOS-related activities?”
Among other strenuous tasks in the HPDT, Soldiers must demonstrate their ability to load and unload 15 ammunition shells in 15 minutes. Each 155mm shell weighs about 100 pounds, so Soldiers are effectively moving 3,000 pounds in 15 minutes – a difficult feat, regardless of gender.
“It feels amazing to be one of the first females here,” said Pvt. Jennifer Moreira, who also graduated in June. “The men aren’t used to it – they don’t expect us to do much, and it feels good to prove them wrong. They tend to say, ‘Oh, hey, let me get this.’ No. We’ve got it. I like to prove them wrong. It’s challenging, and these rounds are heavy, but our NCOs treat us all equally. They give us the opportunity to prove ourselves, and I think we all take advantage of that and prove we can pull our own weight. I am proud of all of us females. I am proud of what we can do.”
Carbullido said she and the other women in her class would never use their femininity as a crutch or an excuse. They are more concerned with proving their worth. They chose this MOS because they know they have what it takes, she said. They don’t want any handouts.
“In this job I feel like, finally, I can do something the same as guys – protecting my family and the United States of America,” Carbullido said. “It’s badass. I’m so honored to be a female in field artillery.”
Sgt. Shannon Johnson, a platoon sergeant for C battery, 1st battalion, 78th Field Artillery, said he had heard NCOs express concerns that women would try to get away with doing less than their male battle buddies. However, the opposite has proven true.
“The physical demands testing has pretty much changed everybody’s views of having females in artillery because – you would be surprised – most females are able to pass it, and some males are not,” Johnson said. “There is always a technique. I have had big males that fail it. And smaller females come in here and just knock it out, first time go, with ease. I think most males think, ‘I’m strong; I’ve got this. I don’t need to prep for it.’ But the females come in, and we have rounds laying around. You see them on the weekends practicing, because they feel like they have to go the extra mile to prove they are worthy of being 13B cannon crewmembers. In my opinion, they are way ahead of the game.
“For all of our Soldiers, their hard work is worth it when they actually shoot that first round and see the cannon go off,” he said. “We had some females shoot for the first time last week. That look on their face – yeah. It is worth the hard work they put in to it. I always tell them the hardest part is prepping to go to the field. Once you are out there and are shooting and you see the camaraderie of the team coming together, you’re like, ‘Yeah, I’m part of something pretty awesome.’”
Adjustments for leadership
For Soldiers new to the Army, working alongside women is all they have known. But senior leadership will feel the minor adjustments, Johnson said.
Practical changes had to be made, including providing separate living quarters and separate outhouses in the field, and before the first woman attended AIT, leadership was required to complete a refresher course on Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention.
“I haven’t had to make too many changes,” Prater said. “Some things, like porta-potties, we have to label them to make sure the males don’t go into the porta-potties that the females use. Sick call is a little different. If a female has a female problem she has to take care of or go see a doctor about, that’s different, as opposed to a regular sprained foot or something to that nature. But training is no different. They wear the same ear plugs, eat the same MREs. So it’s just minor adjustments we have had to make as instructors.”
Staff Sgt. Allan Avendrano agreed the changes have felt minor, but said the overall experience has challenged him to be a better, more professional leader.
“Learning to lead females has definitely rounded me out as a leader, as an NCO. I never thought – not once – in my career, ever, that I was going to have female Soldiers to lead. I’ve been in the Army for 11 years, and this is my first time leading them, teaching them. And the No. 1 adjustment I had to make has got to be my language,” he said with a laugh. “You can ask anybody on the gun line, and I’m fairly sure that is going to be the first thing they will say. They have to clean up their language a little bit more, but that comes with professionalism.”
“‘Stop crying like a little girl’ is something you would never say with females in your platoon,” Johnson said. “No belittling language. We see the females work just as hard, and our language should reflect respect.”
Parks said he tells his NCOs to remain confident in their leadership skills. The Army has prepared them well for this. The NCO Creed states “All Soldiers are entitled to outstanding leadership; I will provide that leadership. … I will be fair and impartial when recommending both rewards and punishment.” As long as they follow TRADOC Regulation 350-6 [Enlisted Initial Entry Training Policies and Administration,] he said, they will do well.
“If you’ve got one standard for the male, it should be the same for the female. That is what I tell all my instructors. If you are a hard NCO, continue to be as hard with the female Soldiers as you would with the male Soldiers. Go from the book. Go from the manual. You will be all right.”
A recently revised Army directive spells out the basics of breastfeeding and lactation support, but gives commanders and supervisors leeway to balance mission requirements with the unique needs of Soldiers at their installations.
As individual commands begin to create their own policies in line with the directive, they are looking to one installation’s policy as a model.
Even before there was an Army directive, the breastfeeding policy at Fort Bliss, Texas, was created by Staff Sgt. Amanda Marion, then the 1st Armored Division Medical NCO and the Pregnancy and Postpartum Physical Training (P3T) Program NCOIC.
“It’s like any other regulation, field manual or directive. You can never take away from the regulation, but you can always add to it. Even though our policy came out before the directive, it is still in line with it and adds to what it already states,” Marion said. “I think that if others were able to sit down and take the time to establish an installation policy and look over all the federal and state laws that apply, it would benefit their Soldiers and the entire force as well.”
A model for the rest of the Army
With Army maternity leave now extended to 12 weeks, more Soldiers will be able to breastfeed successfully, said Robyn Roche-Paull, a registered nurse, internationally board-certified lactation consultant, author, Navy veteran and founder of the organization Breastfeeding in Combat Boots.
“I am a lactation consultant at a military hospital, so I see what it’s like for these moms to come back at six weeks,” Roche-Paull said. “At six weeks, you’ve barely got it together, and now you have to throw in pumping and work and all the rest of that, too? Your body is not ready. So 12 weeks is fantastic. Moms who can get to that point breastfeeding tend to have a better chance at breastfeeding successfully and for a longer duration.”
With more Soldiers breastfeeding, Roche-Paull hopes more installations will follow Fort Bliss’ lead in setting up the framework to support them when they return. Fort Huachuca, Arizona; Fort Drum, New York; and Fort Bragg, North Carolina, have all contacted Roche-Paull for help as they write their policies, she said, and she hopes others will do the same.
Breastfeeding in Combat Boots, a nonprofit organization committed to advocating, informing and supporting all active-duty, Guard and Reserve personnel who are breastfeeding while serving in the military, praises the Fort Bliss policy on its website for being comprehensive and clearly outlining the responsibilities of everyone from the garrison commander to the breastfeeding Soldier.
“The Fort Bliss policy outlines commander and supervisor responsibilities, and that in and of itself is very important, because each level of leadership has a different piece to play,” Roche-Paull said. “What the commander can do to support these Soldiers is different than what an NCO can do and what the mom can do for herself – each plays a part in making this successful. So outlining what is expected at every level of leadership and why – that is fantastic.”
Roche-Paull also praises the Fort Bliss policy for bringing everything together. Information on deferment from deployment, breastfeeding in uniform and lactation support can be found in one place. The 22-page policy even includes sample pumping schedules for both eight- and 12-hour workdays.
“I love Fort Bliss’ pumping schedules,” Roche-Paull said. “Showing where those breaks should be and how it would fit into a workday, it takes the guesswork out of it for everybody. These are the reasons this policy is so, so wonderful. It’s all here. Everything you could possibly need is right here in one document.”
Responding to Soldiers’ needs
Marion created the policy in response to problems Soldiers in the P3T program were facing. Some were being shamed by other Soldiers for breastfeeding in public, and many were having difficulties securing a place and time to pump, she said.
“To help out the Soldiers, veterans and civilians of our community, something needed to be put in writing,” Marion said. “I wrote the original installation breastfeeding policy and then shared it with a nurse practitioner and a labor and delivery officer, both international board certified lactation consultants at William Beaumont Army Medical Center, as well as the hospital’s chief of midwifery services. They were starting to write a policy for the hospital, so we created this breastfeeding task force on the installation. We would email, and every couple of months we would sit down together to go over things. Then we finally finalized the policy, brought it upstairs and got it signed.”
Before the policy was in place, Soldiers were simply told to figure it out on their own, Marion said, and were not given the tools they needed. But now, almost every brigade within the 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss has a lactation room or is in the process of setting one up.
“Within four months, we were getting calls from units all over the installation saying, ‘Hey, I am setting up this room, can you come take a look at the area and let me know if it’s suitable?’” Marion said.
Building a lactation room
The Army directive requires a private space – other than a bathroom – for Soldiers needing to breastfeed or express milk. The space must have locking capabilities and be within a reasonable distance of a safe water source. It needs to have a place to sit, an electrical outlet and a flat surface other than the floor on which to place the pump and other needed supplies. But that is the bare minimum, Marion said.
Many NCOs and officers are inquiring about other ways to make sure their breastfeeding Soldiers feet comfortable, Marion said. And because the room she created at the 1st Armored Division Headquarters building serves as an example, she went above and beyond to make sure every detail of the room would serve that purpose.
There is a refrigerator for Soldiers to store their breastmilk and a microwave with a sterilizer for bottles and pump parts. Extra outlets line the walls in case the Soldier wants to play music or plug in a laptop. Cushy seats, pillows, blankets and a footstool help her get comfortable. The lights can be dimmed, and portraits of Soldiers breastfeeding in uniform hang on the walls, which are painted a calming neutral color. The door is clearly labeled when in use so she doesn’t worry about being disturbed. There are hooks to hang up her ACU top and a mirror so she can make sure her uniform is squared away when she is done.
It might sound silly, Marion said, but anything that has a calming effect and reminds the mother of her baby will facilitate a faster let-down, meaning it will help her milk start flowing and result in a shorter pumping session.
“We want to try to take away that temporary stress that they may feel – the ‘I need to hurry up and get this done’ and other stresses they may have,” Marion said.
There are bottles of water to help keep the Soldier hydrated and granola bars and other snacks to provide those extra 500 calories she needs each day to keep up her milk supply. The room is also stocked with disposable nursing pads, lanolin nipple cream, reading material and disinfectant wipes.
“I tried to make it very welcoming for the Soldiers and as comfortable as possible,” Marion said. “All that stuff doesn’t need to be in there, but a lot of the individuals creating rooms here on the installation are taking that extra step.”
Affording Soldiers time
The Fort Bliss policy is very flexible when it comes to the time allowed a Soldier to pump, because it depends on so many factors, Marion said. It depends on the age of the child, the quality of the pump being used and how the Soldier responds to it, as well as the distance of the lactation room from her workspace. She may even need to “power-pump,” which means to pump more frequently within a certain time period to boost her supply – a technique that may be especially useful as she prepares to leave her baby and go into the field.
“She will need to work with her supervisors and keep them informed,” Marion said. “She may need to sit down with her NCO and let them know, ‘Hey, my supply is starting to diminish, and I need to do this thing called power-pumping.’ NCOs – especially young male NCOs – may feel embarrassed, but they need to create an environment where the Soldier feels comfortable talking about it, because it may be a difficult subject for her as well.”
Roche-Paull also emphasized the importance of NCOs’ support. They need to educate themselves and be there for these Soldiers, she said, because their actions could make or break a mother’s ability to breastfeed.
“I hope NCOs realize how important their support is for these Soldiers,” Roche-Paull said. “It is something so simple that they can do – just making time. It’s no more than the time someone would take to go smoke, honestly, if you add it up. And it goes such a long way toward mom and baby’s health and the morale and the readiness of the unit.”
If a Soldier is not afforded enough time to pump, her milk supply will diminish, and she may face some serious medical issues, Roche-Paull explained. If she does not express milk often enough, she may develop painful lumps in her breasts called clogged ducts, or even mastitis, an infection that requires emergency medical care. She would then have to be taken out of the fight for days, Roche-Paull said, and it could all have been avoided if only she had been given the time she needed.
“I think the big thing here is that NCOs, they are the ones Soldiers are going to go to first,” Roche-Paull said. “Though having support from the top down is obviously great and makes the overall climate more conducive to breastfeeding, really the ones in the trenches who are going to run interference for you are your NCOs. So if they are supportive, if they are going to make sure Soldiers are given the time to pump and not given a hard time about it, that sets these Soldiers up for success.”
In the field
Lactation support in the field is another area in which the Fort Bliss policy shines. The Army directive requires Soldiers be given the same amount of time to pump in the field in order to maintain the physiological capability for lactation, but commands are not required to provide a means to store the milk.
The Fort Bliss policy, on the other hand, encourages Soldiers to make arrangements with their command to store the breastmilk in the unit refrigerator – if there is one – or bring a refrigerator themselves, if possible. They may even put the milk in a cooler and send it back to garrison with the food transportation crew. The child’s caretaker can then pick up the milk at the dining facility on post or at another predetermined location.
“We don’t tell the Soldier she has to ‘pump and dump’ because, for one, it is wasteful. It is heartbreaking, especially if she has a hard time pumping anyway and gets just enough for her baby to eat the following day,” Marion said. “But we do mention in the policy that the Soldiers should think about that and try to establish a stash in their freezer and a good supply before they go to the field – just in case no accommodations can be made and they have to pump and dump.”
‘We have come so far’
Though field exercises and deployments still present challenges, breastfeeding Soldiers have much more support than they did a few years ago, Marion said.
In 2010 when Marion had her daughter, she was working in a clinic that provided medical care to trainees at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Though she had support from her supervisor and the civilian nurses she worked with, she struggled to find a place and time to pump.
“There was no Army policy, no installation policy, no clinic policy. So any time I needed to pump, I just went in to one of the exam rooms and closed the door,” Marion said. “I would put a sign on the door, but the door didn’t lock. There were plenty of times someone would come in saying they needed the room for a trainee, and I would only be 5 minutes into my pump session. I would just have to stop and pack everything up. Then there were some days the optempo was so high that I would go the whole day without pumping. Sometimes I would leak in my uniform right through the breast pads I was wearing because I was so engorged. I would come home, desperate to pump on one side while my daughter fed on the other at the same time just to get relief.”
Luckily, Marion never came down with mastitis, but her supply diminished quickly and she was unable to continue breastfeeding after six months. Looking back at the struggles she faced makes her grateful for the support available to breastfeeding Soldiers today, Marion said, and she is proud to have been a part of the change.
“Being able to do this for Soldiers here at Fort Bliss has been very fulfilling,” she said. “For me to see where I was with my daughter and then see how much I have been able to provide the Soldiers here now – so much has changed in five years. And just think, five years from now, maybe every installation will have a lactation room. Maybe the fight will be even more forceful because Soldiers are better able to fulfill both their duty to their country and their duty to their family. Maybe we will even find ways to ship breastmilk home for free for Soldiers who are deployed. Who knows?”
By LISA FERDINANDO DoD News, Defense Media Activity
The Department of Defense is increasing military maternity leave and instituting other changes in an effort to support military families, improve retention and strengthen the force of the future, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said earlier this month. Women throughout the joint force may take 12 weeks of fully paid maternity leave, Carter told reporters at the Pentagon. The 12-week benefit is double the amount of time for paid maternity leave from when he became defense chief nearly a year ago, he noted. “This puts DoD in the top tier of institutions nationwide and will have significant influence on decision-making for our military family members,” Carter said. Though an attractive incentive for recruiting and retaining talent, the secretary said, the benefit also promotes the health and wellness of mothers through facilitating recovery and promoting breastfeeding and bonding with the infant. “Our calculation is quite simple — we want our people to be able to balance two of the most solemn commitments they can ever make: a commitment to serve their country and a commitment to start and support a family,” he said.
Sgt. Rachel Badgeley, who is stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland, said she welcomes the new policy. After the birth of her son, Cannon, in December, she used six weeks of maternity leave and is now using 30 days of personal leave to be with her baby. At this stage of his life, “I can’t imagine sending him to a day care,” she said. “We have emotional needs. Bonding at this age is important for establishing a strong relationship.”
Support for new parents
The maternity leave decision applies to all service members in the active-duty component and to reserve-component members serving in a full-time status or on definite active-duty recall or mobilization orders in excess of 12 months.
The new policy allows less than the Navy, which decided last year to institute 18 weeks of fully-paid maternity leave, Carter noted. Sailors and Marines who are pregnant or who become pregnant within 30 days of the enactment of the policy may still take the full 18 weeks of paid leave, he said.
In addition, the Department of Defense is seeking legislation to expand military paternity leave from the current 10-day leave benefit to a 14-day noncontinuous leave benefit, he said.
Any increase of paternal leave would be welcoming news for fathers, said Staff Sgt. Jose Ibarra, also stationed at Fort Meade. Fathers need time to be with their infants, too.
“Bonding is a definite plus,” said Ibarra, a new dad who recently took his 10 days in addition to personal leave to be with his new son, Kai Roman.
In addition to bonding, Ibarra said he needed the time to help his wife, Ricel, recover and care for the infant.
Increasing hours of military child care
The Department of Defense subsidizes child care on military installations to ensure its affordability, Carter said. However, he added, military families often have to use outside providers because the hours at military child care facilities do not align with the work schedules of service members.
With those challenges in mind, the Department of Defense is increasing child care access to 14 hours of the day throughout the force, he said.
“By providing our troops with child care they can rely on from before reveille until after taps, we provide one more reason for them to stay on board,” he said. “We show them that supporting a family and serving our country are by no means incompatible goals.”
David Vergun, Army News Service, contributed to this report.
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