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Pentagon sets maternity leave at 12 weeks

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WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced on Thursday that the military will provide for 12 weeks of maternity leave for mothers across the military.

The move, part the Pentagon’s ‘Force of the Future’ initiative that aims to make military service an attractive career path, would double the current six-week maternity leave allotted for mothers in the Army and Air Force but reduce the current 18-week allotment for mothers serving in the Navy.

Carter said his did not “take lightly” the impact of Thursday’s announcement on Navy families but said it was necessary. He said women in the Navy who are currently pregnant would still be eligible for 18 weeks of maternity leave.

The determination was made based on a desire to have a uniform standard across all military services, Carter said, in order to strike a balance between the ability to retain the necessary numbers for the forces while ensuring readiness structures are maintained for any contingency.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced the increase to 18 weeks for maternity leave last July.

“Secretary Mabus has been clear since he announced 18 weeks of maternity leave for sailors and Marines in July,” Capt. Patrick McNally, a spokesman for Mabus said after Carter’s announcement. “He feels that meaningful maternity leave when it matters most is one of the best ways that we can support the women who serve our country and also serves as a safeguard against losing skilled service members.”

A senior defense official said that leadership in the Navy and Marines considers the move a “clawback” of benefits that is not good for women. The official called it a compromise among the services that was not necessary.

Carter said Thursday’s announcement put the military in a “very far, forward position” in terms of being an attractive career path for parents with children or individuals hoping to have a family one day.

“We are not Google, we are not Walmart. We’re war fighters,” Carter said, adding that the new policy puts the military in the “very top tiers of American employers” in maternity leave policies.

Carter said he would seek the authority to allow an increase in paternity leave to 14 days from the current 10.