The Coast Guard will now allow military members who give birth to defer deployment shipboard or overseas for up to 12 months after having a baby.
The change is part of an ongoing effort to provide workplace flexibility for Coast Guard personnel and their families while supporting a mission-ready workforce. It also brings Coast Guard policies in line with those in the Navy and the Air Force.
“The first year of a child’s life is full of challenges and important developmental milestones,” said Lt. Cmdr. Ashley Greene, who has served aboard cutters. “By extending the involuntary afloat assignment and deployment protection, the Coast Guard is giving families more choices and not forcing difficult ones.”
Previously, involuntary deployments to a cutter or outside of the continental U.S. (OCONUS) were deferred during pregnancy and up to six months after childbirth. Deferrals for temporary duty assignments (TDY), meanwhile, were extended to a year. That meant someone leaving home for a six-month tour at sea could get less time to recover after having a baby than someone taking a temporary assignment lasting a couple of weeks.
“The afloat assignment was the one piece that was missed in the original update to the postpartum deferral in 2018,” said Cmdr. Morgan Holden, deputy chief of Coast Guard Strategic Workforce Planning and Human Resources Analytics, which studies future hiring needs and trends.
“Women were choosing to separate from the Coast Guard instead of accepting orders to a cutter,” she added, who is a cutterman herself and mother of three.
While only about 300 to 350 active-duty women in the Coast Guard give birth each year, she notes, about half of them are married to fellow service members, so there is no such thing as a stay-at-home spouse. “A PCS move with a five-month-old, followed by a three-to-four-month deployment leaving behind a six-month-old [who] is still breastfeeding and not sleeping more than four hours at a time has a significant impact on the whole family,” Holden said. “The mom and child lose the benefits of sustained breastfeeding for a year and the mom loses the time necessary to recover from birth. The spouse is now trying to balance caring for a newborn with making a good impression and qualifying for a new unit, standing [multiple] watches, arranging extended childcare, and taking increased time off because newborns in daycare get sick. It’s a stressful time in a family’s life that will become easier in just six short months.”
Holden has been working to improve policies that support retention and work-life balance since 2015 when she joined the Alameda, Calif., chapter of the Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI). The WLI, also spearheaded a 2016 change of postpartum weight loss requirements to 12 months postpartum, citing the disproportionate standards between postpartum members and those on weight probation to lose the same amount of weight.
Fortunately, when Holden explained the policy gap to Coast Guard Cutter Forces Command in September and supported the modification in policy, Holden's data demonstrated that improving similar policies had already boosted women’s retention.
The Sea Duty Readiness Council (SDRC), which Cutter Forces Command stood up early last year to promote initiatives to recruit and retain the seagoing workforce, drafted a proposal. Working with the Office of Military Personnel Policy (CG-133), the change was quickly approved and went into effect by December.
The new policy also extends post-partum deferment to reservists who might otherwise be mobilized overseas or afloat. In addition, it gives them and active duty members the option of choosing to be deployed or mobilized earlier.
Active duty members and reservists who wish to accept an assignment for sea duty or overseas after a shorter period can volunteer by waiving the deferment in writing. They must also be cleared by a Coast Guard medical officer and receive approval from the first O-6/GS-15 in the chain of command.
If you have additional questions, you can email the Office of Military Personnel Policy (CG-133).