WASHINGTON — Child care is the No. 1 concern for servicemembers and their families, three of the military’s four top enlisted leaders told members of a new House committee that focuses exclusively on quality-of-life issues.

Inadequate family housing was second.

“Child care has been a huge challenge,” Sgt. Major of the Army Kenneth Preston said Wednesday. “If you look at the demographics, most spouses today work, [so] the need for child care is very high.”

Sgt. Major of the Marine Corps John Estrada also called child care “the No. 1” issue, with “housing as a close second.”

The Marine Corps is only meeting 68 percent of its child care needs, Estrada said.

In order to meet a Defense Department mandated standard of providing child care for at least 80 percent of those servicemembers who require it, “we’ll need at least another 100,000 [child care] spaces,” Estrada said.

“Well into the thousands” of child care slots are required in the Air Force, Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Gerald Murray said, listing the issue as the “largest complaint” by airmen, also followed by inadequate housing.

As for the Navy, “there are 6,485 for children under 12 on the waiting list,” said Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Terry Scott, although he ranked child care second on his list of priorities.

“Housing is No. 1 on my list” out of “concern for our single sailors, and our ability to house them,” Scott said.

The four leaders spoke during the first meeting of the House Appropriations Committee’s new Military Quality of Life Subcommittee, which brings under one umbrella housing, health care, education, and other matters that used to be scattered among several House subcommittees.

The issues discussed at the meeting, subcommittee chairman Rep. James Walsh, R-N.Y., pledged, “will set the tone for this committee over the coming year” as the Pentagon’s fiscal 2006 budget proposal works its way through Congress.

Moving house

Often citing personal experience, the four service leaders joined together in asking the subcommittee to consider revising the current limits on shipping household goods.

“Anecdotally, between 60 and 70 percent” of the hundreds of enlisted sailors Scott said he has informally polled have had to throw, give away, or sell personal belongings to meet weight requirements, the Navy leader said.

“A lot of those policies and regulations were established decades ago, and how soldiers live has changed,” Preston said. When it comes to “weight allowances for household goods, there are some inequities there … we’d like to see changed.”

“If you ask us … if we could increase our household goods, yes we would,” the Air Force’s Murray agreed.

Scott also told the subcommittee about delays of 90 to 120 days that servicemembers must endure before receiving delivery of private motor vehicles shipped to an overseas duty station, as well as “the inconvenience of having to store or sell a vehicle because you’re going to Alaska or Hawaii, and you can only ship one vehicle.”

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