U.S. defense chief Ash Carter significantly boosted benefits Thursday for mothers and fathers in the country's armed forces, a move aimed at improving their work-life balance and to keep them from leaving the military.
Carter said the U.S. would double the paid maternity leave for new mothers in the military from six to 12 weeks, which he said would put the Pentagon "in the top tier of American institutions in offering this." In addition, he said the paid benefit for new fathers would increase from 10 to 14 days.
Secretary of Defense Carter told reporters that the military would also increase its available child care to 14 hours a day to give two-career couples more flexibility in managing work obligations and family life, add 3,600 mothers' rooms at military facilities where women could breast feed newborn infants and cover the cost of preserving sperm and eggs so that couples can conceive babies if they are otherwise unable to reproduce offspring because of injuries they have incurred in U.S. military operations.
He said service members with families would be given the option to maintain geographic postings they like, rather than being transferred every two or three years to new ones, but in exchange would be required to extend their service commitment.
He said a Pentagon study concluded the U.S. military has a 30 percent lower retention rate for women of child-bearing age than for others in the armed forces, losing many women from the all-volunteer force because they could not manage the twin demands of child-rearing and serving in the military.
"Tackling these problems is imperative," he said.
Carter said the new benefits "reflect the needs of a different era," in contrast to a time when most often only fathers worked and mothers stayed home to raise children.
"I believe we'll be at the forefront of the American workplace," Carter said, creating "a more family friendly employer."
At the same time, he emphasized "there's no way to separate service from sacrifice," and that the needs of keeping the country strong militarily will still be paramount.