The Army announced major updates to how it supports parents across the force Thursday morning in a media briefing accompanying the release of a new Army directive.
The document, signed Tuesday by Army Secretary Christine Wormuth, updated or reiterated six existing parenthood policies and established six new ones all at once.
Some of the biggest changes include establishing clear miscarriage leave guidance that offers leave to non-birth parents, duty station stabilization for fertility treatment, and paid parental leave for reserve component soldiers.
Pregnant soldiers will now also be able to attend officer professional military education courses, and reserve component troops can accept many temporary active duty tours that previously required negative pregnancy tests.
Many of the policies also apply to troops who become parents through adoption or surrogacy.
Other tweaks include updates to postpartum body composition and fitness testing rules, pregnancy uniform regulations, deployment and training deferments, lactation policies, and family care plans.
Gen. James McConville, the Army chief of staff, said he hopes the new policies will help ensure “our best and brightest people don’t have to choose between service and family.”
‘Can I have a little more time?’
The drive to update parenthood policies began with “The Army Mom Life,” a grassroots movement of mothers in the Army, explained service officials.
One of the group’s most prominent voices, Staff Sgt. Nicole Edge, told reporters Thursday that the service’s previous handling of miscarriages and other concluded pregnancies had derailed her career.
“In 2016, I got pregnant for the first time, and unfortunately that resulted in a miscarriage for me,” Edge said. She had surgery to remove the fetus.
She said her medical provider only authorized her two days of convalescent leave, despite her pleas.
“I just lost my child. My whole life just changes,” Edge recalled saying. “Can I have a little more time?”
Edge had to use two weeks of personal leave “to be able to process and mourn the loss of my family and the future that I thought I was [going to] have.”
The new policy changes that. Now, pregnancy losses include extended convalescent leave that increases based on the fetus’ gestational age at the time of loss. Soldiers whose spouses experience pregnancy loss can also receive convalescent leave. Military parents would also get 12 weeks of leave to care for new children under a congressional proposal.
Edge, who is an instructor at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, also had difficulty attending a military course required for promotion to staff sergeant.
She was pregnant when she first became eligible for the course, leaving her unable to go. Then on the day Edge learned she would finally have an opportunity to go, she learned she was pregnant again and lost her reservation.
One of the recent policies now in force would have allowed her to promote to staff sergeant temporarily while pregnant or postpartum, so careers can stay on track.
Edge explained that the new suite of policies “would have greatly impacted my life and made it a little...easier to navigate the Army as a mom.”
Family care plans not for short-term care
The directive also included an important clarification to the family care plans that all troops are required to maintain to help ensure long-term guardianship of their children is in place for extended trips away from their home station.
Some soldiers have expressed frustration in recent years with commanders directing them to activate their plans — many of which involve out-of-state family members — for short-term childcare issues, such as when kids exposed to COVID-19 would be directed to isolate at home for two weeks.
But the directive definitively settles the issue — “soldiers will not be required to utilize the...[Family Care Plan] to meet short-term, unforeseen childcare requirements or for routine military duties occurring outside of normal duty hours.”
For things like staff duty shifts, “commanders should provide 3 weeks notice” and “will take no adverse action against soldiers who cannot arrange childcare for these duties without 3 weeks advance notification.”
It also requires commanders to “provide at least 6 weeks notification, in writing” before forcing troops to activate their care plans for anything short of a deployment or “military operation.” Routine temporary assignments, military schools or multi-day field exercises are specified as needing six weeks’ notice.
Getting the word out
Wormuth also ordered the creation of an online leader “toolkit” — which won’t be behind a Common Access Card wall — to organize all relevant parenthood, pregnancy and postpartum resources.
The Army civilian who led the policy change process, Amy Kramer, emphasized to reporters that centralized toolkits and leader education will make or break the program.
Brigade commanders will have to establish written parenthood policies for their units.
“The 11 policy changes are great, but if the 12th — that leader education — is not in place, the first 11 are not going to be as effective,” Kramer said. “That’s one of the reasons we actually made this directive a single, [all-inclusive] document.”
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army. He focuses on investigations, personnel concerns and military justice. Davis, also a Guard veteran, was a finalist in the 2023 Livingston Awards for his work with The Texas Tribune investigating the National Guard's border missions. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill.