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Defense Sec on 'Fairness' Initiatives: 'We Are Not Walmart; We're War Fighters'

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said today that “fairness” in the military ranks as the Pentagon has tried to promote diversity and equality is important, but in the end the military isn’t “Walmart.”

Carter spokes to reporters today about Defense Department efforts to improve the quality of life for military personnel.

He stood by his recent decision to open all combat roles to qualified women “so that 100 percent of Americans who can meet our exacting standards can contribute to our mission.”

“That’s why in recent years, we allowed gay men and women to serve openly. That’s why we’re developing new approaches and incentives for recruitment, so that we can reach and draw from a broader cross section of Americans,” Carter continued. “And clearly, fairness is important, but always, always the mission effectiveness of our force comes first. We are not Google. We are not Walmart. We’re war fighters.”

“But that doesn’t mean we should not be challenging ourselves just like the private sector. To modernize our workplace and workforce, to retain and attract the top talent we need, so that our force can remain the best for future generations.”

The secretary’s latest reforms “focus on family issues that impact three critical areas for the force of the future: recruiting, retention, and career and talent management.”

Current family stats for the U.S. military: 52 percent of the enlisted force and 70 percent of officers are married. There are 84,000 military-to-military marriages, with 80 percent of those stationed within 100 miles of each other.

“And we know that, at 10 years of service, when women are at their peak years for starting a family, women are retained at a rate 30 percent lower than men across the services,” Carter said. “We know that a high level of work — excuse me — of family conflict — work and family conflict is one of the primary reasons they report leaving service.”

“To build the force of the future, tackling these problems is imperative, especially when the generation coming of age today places a higher priority on work/life balance.”

Carter intends to accomplish this by “setting a more competitive standard across our joint force for parental leave, by making quality child care services more accessible and more flexible, by helping our men and — men and women meet current career demands while preserving their ability to start a family down the road, and by making an option available for troops to trade the ability to remain at a station of choice, at their commander’s discretion, for an additional service obligation.”

He announced today 12 weeks of fully paid maternity leave “as the standard across the joint force, doubling this benefit from 6 weeks when I entered office.”

“This puts DOD in the top tier of institutions nationwide, and will have significant influence on decision making for our military family members. Certainly, offering a more generous standard for maternity leave is imperative for attracting and retaining talent,” Carter said.

The Navy will continue to have a higher maternity leave benefit: 18 weeks.

Carter’s office will also “seek authorities” to increase paid paternity leave for new fathers from 10 to 14 days.

Child care access will also be increased to 14 hours a day across the force.

“By providing our troops with child care they can rely on, from before reveille to after taps, we provide one more reason for them to stay onboard,” Carter said.

The secretary is also ordering that a “mother’s room” for breast pumping “be made available at every facility with more than 50 women, which means the establishment of some 3,600 rooms across the country.”

A pilot program will also cover the cost of freezing sperm or eggs to “help provide men and women, especially those deployed in combat, with greater peace of mind.”