What The Navy’s New Maternity Leave Policy Means For Recruitment And Retention Efforts

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Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Nathan Laird

On July 2, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced a sweeping change to the maternity leave policy for female sailors and Marines, extending paid maternity leave from six to 18 weeks during the first year following a child’s birth. The change is significant in that it shows dedication to retaining women in the force, and just as important, to recruiting women in the first place.


Navy officials recognize this change as a wise investment in their female service members. It has been noted that women in the Navy are retained at half the rate as men. This change marks a concrete step to address this issue and makes service more inclusive.

While female retention is not a new concern for the services, recognizing its causes and taking steps to address them is. Vice Adm. William Moran, chief of naval personnel, told reporters as recently as May 2014 the fundamental reason behind low female retention is that “women want to start families and need more time to do so. This often makes women choose between staying in uniform and starting a family.” The new policy means that these two options are not mutually exclusive.

Mabus' official announcement was preceded by his commencement address to midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy in May in which he outlined many proposals, ranging from new uniforms to changes in training and increased options for sabbaticals. This speech also marked the first public mention of the forthcoming changes to the service’s maternity leave policy. At the time, Mabus proposed doubling maternity leave to 12 weeks, the ultimate aim being to extend the period of leave to all branches of the military.

This theme of supporting female sailors and Marines was echoed throughout Mabus’ speech as he outlined ways the Navy is working to improve the quality of life for servicewomen. He explained, "We’re trying to make it a more family-friendly atmosphere in the service, and allow you to not have to choose between family and service.” It’s difficult to imagine more welcoming words to young female sailors and Marines about to earn their commissions and embark on their military careers.

In the July 2 announcement, Mabus highlighted that the new policy is also beneficial to the Navy and Marine Corps services, not just the new mothers who use the leave. In essence, it’s not just a personnel issue, but also a force readiness one. “For families, increased time following the birth of [a] child has tangible benefits for the physical and psychological health of both mother and child,” Mabus said. “For the Navy and Marine Corps, there is the likelihood that women will return to and stay in her career, yielding higher readiness and retention for the services.”

Since the announcement, Mabus’ Twitter feed has been actively promoting the announcement and what it means for Navy personnel.

To go from proposing an already-significant increase in paid maternity leave to enacting an even more dramatic tripling is momentous. Both Mabus and the department recognize that to help keep top performers, the Navy must become more family friendly.

The impetus behind this policy shift is not only to offer women more support as working parents, but also to attract more women to sea service in the first place. The new policy makes service all the more appealing when a potential sailor or Marine knows that her future employer is supportive in this way, not just in theory but also in policy.

It should be noted that a fair critique of the maternity leave policy change is that it only applies to female sailors and Marines and is not extended to adoptive parents or new fathers. However, maternity leave and parental leave are governed separately, so while Mabus has authority to expand leave for mothers, expanding leave for adoptive parents and fathers would require a change to laws set by Congress.

The Navy’s increase to 18 weeks of paid maternity leave makes the armed services among the most supportive institutions in the country for new mothers.

My brother earned the Medal of Honor for saving countless lives — but only after he was left for dead

"As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night."

Opinion

Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.

Air Force Master Sgt. John "Chappy" Chapman is my brother. As one of an elite group, Air Force Combat Control — the deadliest and most badass band of brothers to walk a battlefield — John gave his life on March 4, 2002 for brothers he never knew.

They were the brave men who comprised a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) that had been called in to rescue the SEAL Team 6 team (Mako-30) with whom he had been embedded, which left him behind on Takur Ghar, a desolate mountain in Afghanistan that topped out at over 10,000 feet.

As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night. After many delays, the mission should and could have been pushed one day, but Szymanski ordered the team to proceed as planned, and Britt "Slab" Slabinski, John's team leader, fell into step after another SEAL team refused the mission.

But the "plan" went even more south when they made the rookie move to insert directly atop the mountain — right into the hands of the bad guys they knew were there.

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Conflict photographer Lynsey Addario's seen a hell of a lot of combat over the past twenty years. She patrolled Afghanistan's Helmand Province with the Marines, accompanied the Army on night raids in Baghdad, took artillery fire with rebel fighters in Libya and has taken photos in countless other wars and humanitarian disasters around the world.

Along the way, Addario captured images of plenty of women serving with pride in uniform, not only in the U.S. armed forces, but also on the battlefields of Syria, Colombia, South Sudan and Israel. Her photographs are the subject of a new article in the November 2019 special issue of National Geographic, "Women: A Century of Change," the magazine's first-ever edition written and photographed exclusively by women.

The photos showcase the wide range of goals and ideals for which these women took up arms. Addario's work includes captivating vignettes of a seasoned guerrilla fighter in the jungles of Colombia; a team of Israeli military police patrolling the streets of Jerusalem; and a unit of Kurdish women guarding ISIS refugees in Syria. Some fight to prove themselves, others seek to ignite social change in their home country, and others do it to liberate other women from the grip of ISIS.

Addario visited several active war zones for the piece, but she found herself shaken by something much closer to home: the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, South Carolina.

Addario discussed her visit to boot camp and her other travels in an interview with Task & Purpose, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

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An Army staff sergeant who "represents the very best of the 101st Airborne Division" has finally received a Silver Star for his heroic actions during the Battle of the Bulge after a 75-year delay.

On Sunday, Staff Sgt. Edmund "Eddie" Sternot was posthumously awarded with a Silver Star for his heroics while leading a machine gun team in the Ardennes Forest. The award, along with Sternot's Bronze Star and Purple Heart, was presented to his only living relative, Sternot's first cousin, 80-year-old Delores Sternot.

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U.S. special operations forces are currently field testing a lightweight combat armor designed to cover more of an operator's body than previous protective gear, an official told Task & Purpose.

The armor, called the Lightweight Polyethylene (PE) Armor for Extremity Protection, is one of a handful of subsystems to come out of U.S. Special Operations Command's Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) effort that media outlets dubbed the "Iron Man suit," Navy Lieutenant Cmdr. Tim Hawkins, a SOCOM spokesman, told Task & Purpose on Wednesday.

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