WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Thursday announced a series of measures aimed at improving the quality of life for those serving in the U.S. military, including a doubling of maternity leave for most personnel to 12 weeks.
Carter said the all-volunteer military is primarily a married force, and making it more family-friendly and responsive to the changing needs of a new generation would allow it to attract and retain the best talent available.
"We are not Google, we are not Walmart - we are war-fighters. But that doesn't mean we should not be challenging ourselves just like the private sector to modernize our workplace and workforce," the secretary told reporters at the Pentagon.
Women make up about 15 percent of the U.S. military, and thousands of women have served alongside men in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But many women leave the military at mid-career phases. Carter said women are "retained at a rate 30 percent lower than men across the services."
He said 52 percent of the enlisted force and 70 percent of officers are married, and there are 84,000 military-to-military marriages.
"What we do to strengthen quality of life for military families today and what we do to demonstrate that we are a family-friendly force to those we want to recruit is absolutely essential to our future strength," Carter said.
The measures Carter announced included:
- Setting paid maternity leave at 12 weeks for all services, double the current allowance for most personnel except for the 18 weeks offered by the Navy since last year. Carter said he had decided on the new level after weighing the "readiness cost." The 18 weeks would apply to Navy personnel currently pregnant.
- Increasing childcare provided at military facilities to 14 hours a day.
- Establishing nearly 3,600 mother's rooms in military facilities across the country to make it easier for breastfeeding mothers.
- Allowing family members to remain at a station of choice in exchange for additional active duty service.
- Covering the cost of freezing sperm or eggs through a pilot program for active duty service members.
(Reporting by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by David Gregorio)