Commentary

September 3, 2015
 

Commentary: Changes to the Air Force’s post-partum policies

UNITED KINGDOM – On July 8, I received an e-mail informing me that I was within 90 days of my deployment window.

My first reaction was, “Great, I have to do a ton of CBTs.”[computer-based training].

I quickly realized there was a high probability that in just three months, I would be deploying and miss my son’s first birthday.

I joined the military to serve my country. I knew that signing my name on the dotted line meant I could someday deploy. I was excited about that possibility. However, since having my son nine months ago, nothing has been farther from my mind than deploying. I, like many parents in the military on active duty, have contemplated going reserve or even getting out completely.

Recently, the Air Force announced changes to increase the six-month deferment to 12 months, allowing females six additional months to accomplish their fitness assessments following child birth. As part of the Air Force’s 2015 Diversity and Inclusion initiatives, this also increases the deferment from deployment, short tour or dependent-restricted assignments and temporary duty to one year, unless waived by the service member, according to an article on www.AF.mil.

I thought joining the military was going to be the toughest decision I made in my life, until I became a mother. After giving birth, I failed my first physical fitness assessment. I lost sleep many nights debating whether or not to end my career in order to be a full-time mom. There is no doubt in my mind that I made the right choice to stay in. With the recent changes to Air Force policy for mothers they have made it clear that the Air Force listens and cares about each and every person in its service.

“The goal is to alleviate the strain on some of our talented Airmen who choose to leave the Air Force as they struggle to balance deployments and family issues, and this is especially true soon after childbirth,” said Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James, in the Air Force article.

Staff Sgt. Shereka Royal, 48th Operations Support Squadron airfield management operations supervisor is a mother of three and has served in the U.S. Air Force for more than 12 years.

“I was lucky enough to deploy before I became a mother. Four months after my first daughter was born, my husband deployed. I was nervous that she wouldn’t know him when he returned. It also crossed my mind that two months later there was a possibility that I could deploy again.”

Senior Airman Kristana Eisler, a 48th Logistic Readiness Squadron traffic management journeyman, who is a first time mother to Brody, 9 months old, has been in the USAF for almost six years.

“I have missed out on so much since giving birth,” Eisler said. “Being a mom in the military is difficult. You have to prioritize your life and be willing to miss out on milestones.”

Eisler and Royal haven’t deployed since becoming mothers, but both agree it would be difficult to leave their children. At the end of the day, they understand that the mission has to get done.

“We all know how important the mission is, and we’ve been taught to be resilient as Airmen,” Royal said.“But when it comes to the younger children, their level of understanding isn’t the same.”

“With the new changes, if I were to have another child, I’m more likely to stay in,” Eisler said. “This is allowing mothers to truly be there during the times when newborn babies need us. It makes me feel more welcome in the Air Force as a mother.”

Air Force guidance memorandums will be made available detailing the changes to policy in the coming weeks.

According to the article on www.AF.mil, the Air Force continues to research opportunities, in conjunction with the Department of Defense, to extend the maternity and convalescent leave period, similar to the recent changes announced by the Secretary of the Navy.

“We want to make sure we develop an equitable policy that supports all of our Airmen and also maintains the ability to execute our mission,” James said in closing.

Airmen currently receive six weeks, or 42 days, of maternity leave, in line with the Department of Defense policy. By direction of the president, federal agencies can advance up to six weeks of paid sick leave to federal employees with a new child.




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