The National Guard will offer child care to Guardsmen during weekend drills in six states under a pilot program starting next month, according to a memo obtained by Military.com.
The move extends free child care to a group of soldiers who do not already have access to on-base options, helping part-time soldiers with a benefit the Army's other 400,000 parents enjoy. The pilot program comes at a time when the Guard is increasingly called on for a wide array of domestic missions and as the military as a whole faces a recruitment and retention crisis.
The memo, which was sent by the National Guard Bureau to the leaders of the National Guard in six states, frames the program as a matter of keeping people in the service, with Director of Manpower and Personnel Maj. Gen. Eric Little writing that a "lack of weekend drill child care is impacting soldier retention."
A spokesperson for the National Guard Bureau verified the authenticity of the memo, but could not immediately answer other questions about the pilot program, including its expected cost and duration.
The pilot program will be run in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Virginia and Washington, according to the memo. It will be open to Guard members with children ages 6 weeks to 12 years whose spouse, significant other or another adult living in the house has to work during drill weekend.
Enrollment is supposed to open Sept. 1, with child care available beginning in November for drills, according to the memo.
Commanders will have to verify there is no other adult in the household who could take care of the children and that the Guardsmen are in otherwise good standing, including "prescribed uniform, neat and soldierly appearance and satisfactory performance of assigned duties as determined by the unit commander," the memo says.
While most benefits have eligibility requirements that can bar Guardsmen if they don't meet fitness standards or have committed a crime, appearance would be a more subjective standard that would leave obtaining the benefit largely at a commander's discretion.
Enrollment and placement will be done through Child Care Aware of America, which provides similar services to families in all active-duty branches. Soldiers will have to re-register each month they want child care, though commanders will have to re-validate eligibility only every three months, according to the memo.
The funding for the pilot program will be managed by the National Guard Bureau.
The pilot program could be expanded to other states after the first year, depending on whether funding is available and based on the Army National Guard's assessment of "long-term affordability, accessibility, scalability, feasibility and utilization," the memo adds.
The Guard plans to review the program and survey participants in late March.
The expansion of child care to some National Guardsmen comes after the Army recently unveiled extensive new policies for parents, including expanded leave.
Child care is a top concern for military families, according to a survey released last month that also found that fewer service members and veterans would recommend joining the military. More than 78% of respondents to the 2021 Military Family Support Programming Survey said they had difficulty finding child care in the past two years. Most respondents were spouses of active-duty service members, but some respondents were spouses or members of the National Guard or reserves.
-- Steve Beynon contributed to this report
-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.