WASHINGTON, Jan. 29 (UPI) -- Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced new initiatives Thursday that extend family-friendly benefits to members of the armed forces, designed to make the military a more appealing career.
In standardizing leave for all services, female troops will now receive 12 weeks of maternity leave, up from six weeks in the Army and Air Force, but down from 18 weeks in the Navy and Marine Corps. Paid paternity leave will also increase from 10 days to 14 days.
About 200,000 women in the military will be eligible for the maternity leave.
"As we introduce today's reforms, our calculation is quite simple," Carter said at the press conference. "We want our people to be able to balance two of the most solemn commitments they could ever make: a commitment to serve their country and a commitment to start and support a family."
The initiatives, called Force of the Future, are being put in place to make the military more attractive to millennials.
"This puts (the Defense Department) in the top tier of institutions nationwide," Carter said. "It will have significant influence on decision making for our military service members."
Day-Care center hours will also be extended to 14 hours daily. Posts where more than 50 people serve will be required to have rooms for new moms, and troops will be able to trade staying at a particular base longer for the sake of their family in exchange for additional time in the military.
And a new pilot program will offer to cover the cost of freezing sperm or eggs for active military.
Carter's year as the Pentagon has been largely notable for his attempts to strengthen the U.S. military through improved personnel policies, particularly for women, who leave the military at much higher rates than men.
The cost of the improvement are estimated at about $380 million over five years.