By Buddy Blouin
If you serve in the Army and are a parent or plan to become one, then we have great news! Your work/life balance is about to get a whole lot better. This is all thanks to changing policies aimed at helping you raise your military family. That’s right, and you won’t have to choose between advancing your military career and starting a family to do so.

Start a Military Family Without Sacrificing Your Career

Starting a family is a big decision, and while in the service, it’s even bigger. There are many considerations for any family, but the military career of a soldier is far from the easiest to navigate, either while pregnant or raising a child. Between harsh physical demands, travel requirements, and other obvious dangers, this can set back the career or family goals of many who serve. Now, thanks to changes that started getting attention from a social media group known as Army Mom Life, parents in the Army are getting some support. "We want to normalize parenthood in the military,” said Maj. Sam Winkler, an expert on policies for the Army. “It should be celebrated and encouraged, and you shouldn't choose between having a career and a family," he continued. The new policies will provide a variety of Army benefits for parents serving. They are focused on Army parental leave, the advancement of careers, and the working conditions of pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. Overall, 400,000 soldiers, including 29,000 single fathers, will be positively affected by the changes.

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Understanding the New Army Policy

Overcoming some of the issues facing a military family, the military new family support system aims to assist in the following areas:
  • Soldiers who give birth will have a year excused from all of their duties that can be extended to normal duty after having their child. No field training or deployment will be required, and soldiers will be excused from training events and temporary duties that take them away from their home station.
  • Breastfeeding and lactating parents can also gain an extension after one year if the right accommodations cannot be made. Commanders will be responsible for providing specific, private lactation spaces for soldiers to conduct breaks in. These breaks must be given every two to three hours and must last a minimum of 30 minutes long. The rooms will also have to be separate from any bathrooms and provide an area for sitting, a flat surface to lie down, and a refrigeration system for storing milk correctly.
  • Pregnant officers are allowed to train for schooling if they are receiving an education that is critical for a promotion. Although noncommissioned officers (NCOs) still aren’t allowed to attend promotional schools due to the physical demands of such classes, the Army is going to allow NCOs to gain promotion before attending.
As the policy states, "Commanders are encouraged to give soldiers maximum flexibility to personally attend to short-term, unforeseen parenting requirements, even when doing so would interfere with military duties. This includes, but is not limited to, unscheduled childcare responsibilities due to child development center/school closures or child illness. In cases where training and operational requirements allow a soldier's absence, the soldier will not be charged ordinary leave if remaining in the local area to care for their children." The new Army policy is also allowing parents who didn’t give birth a one-year deferment from long-term duties when it is needed. This benefit also extends to those who are undergoing fertility treatments.

The Policy Comes From Lower-Level Soldiers, Not Higher-Ranking Officers

Senior leaders, such as Maj. Winkler, are often creating policies for the Armed Forces with the ramifications also affecting lower-ranking individuals. After all, Maj. Winkler herself helped write policies for the Army during her service in the 4th Cavalry Brigade, 1st Army Division East. But this change is coming from the Army listening to lower and mid-level officers. Back on January 1, 2021, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) signed into existence the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This policy provided those serving in the Reserves at least 12 weeks of paid maternity leave for drill days and mandatory events, as well as the ability to retain retirement point credits for missed activities. The Army is now following this law, and a large reason is because of the discussions and critiques given through the social media presence of Army Mom Life. Holding a social presence on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, Army Mom Life is made up of parents serving in the Army discussing the lives and challenges that come with being a parent and serving America. Thanks to the awareness and discussions held here, a grassroots campaign was born. Now, military personnel across the Army, and hopefully elsewhere, will enjoy expanded military family benefits that advance both families and careers.

Protecting the American Military Family Beyond the Army

The changes the Army has seen throughout the years to help parents and families are great, and members in other branches of the military deserve the same benefits. Although there are some delays due to the bureaucracy of legislation, the Navy is looking like a prime candidate to enact such progressive policies. "We are waiting on (the Office of the Secretary of Defense) guidance to implement the NDAA changes to Parental Leave, including maternity leave for drilling reservists," said Lt. Cmdr. Travis Callaghan via email. Organizations such as the National Military Family Association (NMFA) are important, as they give support to the American military family. There are countless organizations, volunteer groups, and nonprofits that support the military, and rightfully so. But the fact that the Army is taking the time to advance the military family by creating policies that came from the feedback of its members is a great step in the right direction. As we wait to see potential changes in the Navy, we can only hope that families across all branches continue to receive the support and benefits they deserve.

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