JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas — The U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence, known as MEDCoE, held a leader professional development session, or LPD, on June 9, 2022. The LPD focused on the recently enacted U.S. Army Directive 2022-06 which covers Army policies concerning parenthood, pregnancy and postpartum.
Hosted by Maj. Gen. Dennis LeMaster, MEDCoE commanding general, the event featured guest speakers Mrs. Amy Kramer, special assistant, Office of the Undersecretary of the Army and Lt. Col. Lana Bernat, director or the Female Force Readiness and Health group and the women's health nursing consultant to the Army surgeon general. The speakers provided the in-person and online participants with insightful information on the background and implementation of this new directive.
Addressing the audience, LeMaster stated “This is about People First, and this LPD is the most important part of my day. This is the right thing to do for humanity. I can almost feel the pressure coming off on our pregnant females. This will create an environment, and a community for children to thrive.”
With the recent publication of Army Directive 2022-06 on April 19, 2022, the largest and oldest branch of the military makes strides to become more family friendly, in large part by accommodating the needs of Army women before, during and after they give birth.
“It is a privilege to work in this policy,” said Kramer when beginning her briefing. “This is an Army-wide effort, and these are real human beings behind this policy.”
The directive modifies six existing policies, including extending exemptions for postpartum body composition, physical fitness testing and increasing family care plan flexibility. It also introduces six new policies, including items related to professional military education, fertility treatment and pregnancy loss.
During the next hour, she and Bernat went through the directive in detail while also covering many topics asked during their previous road shows. They fielded questions covering a wide area of topics related to parenthood, pregnancy and postpartum including assignments, temporary duty, fertility treatments, family care plans, convalescent leave, lactation policy, and professional military education.
Throughout their presentation, attendees asked questions on topics before they were addressed on the briefing slides, demonstrating the considerable interest in the new directive.
Providing background, Kramer explained this initiative did not originate within the Army.
“This did not start by a bunch of people whose day job is to write policy,” said Kramer. She stated that the idea was started by two Soldiers who volunteered on their own time to create Army Mom Life, a Facebook group to support each other, ask questions, share resources and get help.
The group moderators noticed that these issues were not one-offs, they were consistent with the same stories happening at different locations.
“They created an informal survey on the site and took the five biggest responses,” said Kramer.
From the responses, they wrote a white paper. They identified the five largest barriers to pregnancy, identified the regulations that cover those barriers and then recommended line-item edits to those regulations to remove the barriers.
In response to the white paper, a working group was established at Manpower and Reserve Affairs directorate to review the problems and solutions identified in the white paper. The working group modified the white paper's recommendations and included additional ongoing People First initiatives, to author 12 distinct policy recommendations into a single Army Directive.
As with any new Army directive, questions on how it will affect the Army remain. Both Kramer and Bernat carefully answered audience questions and emphasized the need to inform the service of the many benefits, particularly long-term ones, to maintaining a ready and resilient force.
The Army has more than 180,000 female Soldiers, according to reports. Approximately 98% of these women are in their childbearing years. While only about 6,000 women serving in the Army are pregnant at any one time, their wellbeing while pregnant, after giving birth and later with their families, have a significant impact.
“It’s very important to understand the why, because you will run into some people that are pushing back on this policy and are concerned it will have an impact to readiness,” said Bernat. “The long term is being able to retain a family is so beneficial for the Army. This policy impacts far beyond the mother, it impacts the child, the family and the unit.”
This directive is aimed at making Army life easier for the over 400,000 parents within the total force, including 29,000 single fathers and 9,800 single mothers. In the past 10 years, more than 21,500 active-duty enlisted Soldiers have separated from the Army because of pregnancy or parenthood.
“This may improve our posture with our ability to recruit and retain. We may solve a lot of problems and make a better Army. This sets families up for success,” said LeMaster.
Directive 2022-06 is a long-term investment in the readiness of military parents by investing in Soldier wellness during and after pregnancy and improving quality of life during parenthood. The directive not only applies to active-duty Families, it outlines how these policies apply to Guard and Reserve components.
In their closing Kramer and Bernat thanked LeMaster on behalf of the Army Surgeon General and U.S. Army Medical Command for the opportunity to speak at MEDCoE. Their final slides displayed numerous encouraging comments they have heard as they speak to the service on directive 2022-06. They also encouraged the audience to share their stories.
“The reception has been positive,” said Kramer. “But where I need your help is to gather feedback and stories. Do you know anyone who is staying in the due to some of these changes? Do you know somebody who would have stayed if these changes had been in place? And even negative feedback, as we need that constructive feedback to make positive changes as we move forward.”
Army Directive 2022-06 can be viewed and downloaded by visiting the Army Publishing Directorate.