The Navy revamped its pregnancy policy this week into an opportunity for sailors to negotiate a new assignment that's far more like a regular rotation instead of a cursory transfer to a nearby, available shore-duty opening.
The new policy, unveiled in an administrative message Tuesday, says that sailors who become pregnant while on sea duty will now be able to choose two-year orders to a shore command that lines up with their needs and careers.
The goal behind the change, according to Rear Adm. Wayne Baze, the head of the Navy's Personnel Command, is to "more deliberately assign [sailors] to meaningful employment that keeps them moving on their career progressions while filling mission critical jobs."
"I want a Navy where no sailor ever has to give up a successful naval career in order to have a family," Baze told reporters on a call in November.
Baze said that the old policy -- one that has been in place for at least a decade -- would reassign pregnant sailors to commands that were close to the sailor and medical care.
"It was based primarily on medical considerations and capacities of the commands that would accept them," he said. "It didn't focus enough on sailors' skill sets."
Now, sailors can not only negotiate with the Navy on what job they do while navigating pregnancy or adoption and parenthood, but they are doing so in a job that, according to Baze, will also be keeping them on track for career advancement and promotion.
Baze noted that since the transfers are for a much longer two-year span, it enables the Navy to even support moves like Norfolk, Virginia, to San Diego.
"It allows us not just ... stability for the person who is raising the child, but it also allows stability for the command that they're going to ... and because of that, we are more flexible on our ability to assign them to other places," he said.
The new policy also allows sailors who become pregnant during a shore duty assignment within 13 months of their planned transfer to either extend their current assignment or choose another critical billet opening in their local area.
"The service member is given a lot of choices on location of where they're assigned, so it's a give and take, it's not just needs of the Navy," Baze said.
The new policy also draws more attention to the Navy's struggle to get sailors to fully man their ships. Last week, Baze's boss, Vice Adm. Rick Cheeseman, told reporters that the Navy has about 22,000 gaps in its shipboard manning among the most junior ranks.
Baze said that some sailors departing a ship will mean "hard decisions about a billet at sea that we perhaps don't need to fill right away."
"Sometimes, it means we're going to reassign somebody to that billet a little bit earlier."
But, Baze also pointed to the Navy's new "Detailer Marketplace" -- a program that effectively ties promotions and transfers together -- as another way the service can tackle the problem.
Meanwhile, the number of sailors who actually take advantage of the Navy’s pregnancy policy is relatively low compared to the overall size of the force. Baze said that the Navy typically has about 4,200 to 4,400 pregnant or postpartum sailors in the service at any given time among a total of 350,000 enlisted service members.