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Longer Air Force maternity leave policy takes effect

Sgt. 1st Class Frank Inman and Sgt. Rachel Badgeley, holding their newborn baby Cannon Inman, prepare to leave Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., on Feb. 1, 2016. At left is 21-month-old Maddox Inman and at right is 5-year-old Brayden Inman. The Air Force has extended maternity leave for all female airmen from six to 12 weeks, effective Friday, Feb. 5, 2016, a change directed for all the services by Defense Secretary Ash Carter. Carter is also proposing to expand paternity leave from 10 to 14 days. Rachel Badgeley/U.S. Army

By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 10, 2016

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — The Air Force has implemented the new Pentagon policy giving servicemembers 12 weeks of paid maternity leave.

The service announced Tuesday that the leave policy — which doubles the amount of time new mothers can take off after giving birth — went into effect last Friday. Airmen currently on maternity leave will automatically be granted a six-week extension, Air Force officials said.

The change, announced by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter last month, applies to female airmen on active duty, as well as to reservists on orders to active service for a continuous 12 months.

The change comes just in time for Tech. Sgt. Jessica Brumbaugh, 34, who found out about two weeks ago that she’s expecting her third child.

“I think it’s great,” she said of the extended maternity leave. “It kind of eases my mind that I have more time to get things together and get to know my baby before I rush off to work.”

Brumbaugh, who works at the command post at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., said it was difficult sending her first child off to day care at only six weeks of age. She felt her body hadn’t recovered from childbirth yet and that her baby was too young for day care.

“It just felt too soon,” she said.

In accordance with guidance outlined by Carter, the Air Force reminded commanders that they may not disapprove maternity leave. The allowance of additional maternity leave also should not restrict commanders or medical professionals from granting convalescent leave beyond the 12 weeks, if such leave is determined to be medically necessary, officials said.

The new policy also underscores that airmen who choose to take maternity leave should not be subject to any career disadvantages as a result, including limitations in assignments, performance appraisals or selection for professional military education.

Carter said he hopes lengthening military maternity leave and other family-friendly reforms, such as increasing available on-base child care hours and slots, will strengthen military families and improve retention.

While female soldiers and airmen now have six additional weeks of paid maternity leave, the change is forcing the Navy and Marine Corps to scale back a generous, 18-week leave policy implemented in August by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus. The smaller maternity window, however, doesn’t kick in until next month. Sailors and Marines who are pregnant or give birth on or before March 3, 2016, will be entitled to 18 weeks of maternity leave, according to DOD guidance.

Carter is also seeking to extend paternity leave for new fathers across the services from 10 to 14 days, which they can tack on to annual leave.

svan.jennifer@stripes.com
 

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