In this era of budget austerity, America's all-volunteer military faces several retention challenges, not least the stiff competition from a strengthening private sector where employee benefits packages are increasingly becoming more generous than those offered by the government.
One shortfall the Pentagon can quickly and easily address is the amount of time off it provides to new fathers.
Some military services have recently updated their maternity leave policy, a valuable change that recognizes the obvious importance of accommodating new moms. The Air Force, for instance, now says that female airmen don't have to deploy for a year after giving birth. Sailors and Marines now get 18 weeks of maternity leave — triple what they had earlier this year. The Army says it is considering similar changes.
It's time for DoD to give new fathers a better deal, too. Becoming a father is a life-changing experience. A modest change, say doubling paid paternity leave from 10 to 20 days, is not only the right thing to do for military families, it will undoubtedly boost morale and, hopefully, improve retention. Companies such as Bank of America and Google offer new fathers a full three months of paid time off.
The military should double the allowed leave for new fathers to 20 days off, a measure that would improve morale at a time its severely challenged. Here, Capt. Alex Usztics, platoon commander, Force Recon, 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, holds his daughter, Everly, after returning to Camp Lejeune, N.C., in October 2014.
Photo Credit: Lance Cpl. Christopher Mendoza/Marine Corps
Such a change would be in step with Defense Secretary Ash Carter's push to modernize personnel policies so the military can better compete with the private sector for the country's premier talent. The "Force of the Future" proposal put forward by DoD's personnel and readiness division calls for a total of 18 weeks of paternity to be used during a man's entire career.
In the interim, unit commanders should, as a matter of course, default in favor of giving new fathers time off. In cases where deployments or other missions preclude the new father getting his due, the services should allow them to take it post-deployment or allow an extension of the benefit on a case-by-case basis.
Each year service members bring 144,000 children into their homes, through birth and adoption. This simple fix would send a strong message that DoD cares about its families and is committed to supporting their needs.