Army reservists in units in four states will have free access to child care during weekend drills under a pilot program launching next month.
The Army Reserve pilot program comes simultaneously to a similar effort from the National Guard and is intended to help retention after officials heard anecdotally that child care is an issue contributing to people's decision not to reenlist.
"This program takes care of its people, providing no-cost child care, which will allow that soldier to be 100% focused during a battle assembly," Mufutau Taiwo, deputy director of Army Reserve Family Programs, said in an interview with Military.com. "To me, that's a win-win. It's a win-win for the Army, it's a win-win for the Army Reserve, and it's a win-win for the soldier and family member."
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The pilot will be run in New York, Florida, Texas and California in units that meet the target population the Army Reserve wants to reach: junior enlisted personnel and mid-grade noncommissioned officers, of which the Army Reserve has identified a "shortage," Taiwo said.
It will be open to soldiers who have children ages six months to 12 years old and are single parents; whose spouse is also in the military and drilling at the same time; or whose spouse has to work or take a class on the weekends, Taiwo said. The soldiers also have to be in good standing with their unit, he added.
Enrollment for the program will open Sept. 1, and child care will be available starting with the October drills.
To start, the pilot will have slots for 168 children, Taiwo said. There are about 136,000 children across the entire Army Reserve, according to data provided by the service.
The trial run, which will last a year, is expected to cost about $1 million, he said.
The Army Reserve pilot program is launching at the same time as the National Guard is offering free child care during weekend drills to Guardsmen in six states. Both services have been coordinating over the last year to be able to implement their respective pilot programs in fiscal 2023, which starts Oct. 1, Taiwo said.
The expansion of child care to reservists and Guardsmen -- groups that have been among the only in the military without on-base child care options -- comes as the military as a whole is facing a recruitment and retention crisis.
The Guard has similarly framed its pilot program as a matter of retention.
"During discussions with state adjutants general, it was determined that a lack of weekend drill child care is impacting soldier retention among single soldiers, dual military soldiers and married soldiers with a spouse who works on the weekend," the National Guard Bureau's manpower and personnel office said in a statement to Military.com.
About 118,000 Army National Guard members have children, including about 30,000 single parents with 36,000 children aged between newborn and 12 years old, according to the statement.
"Many of these soldiers have difficulty finding quality child care within weekend drill period hours, which inhibits their ability to attend drill," the statement said.
The Guard child care pilot program also opens for enrollment in September, though the first month child care will be available is November. The Guard's trial will last at least a year, with the potential to expand to other states after that, depending on the availability of funding and interest in the program.
For the Army Reserve, Taiwo also argued that providing child care will improve the service's overall ability to be ready for missions.
"A dedicated soldier can achieve great heights," he said. "Dedicated soldiers will work for the Army Reserve and accomplish their mission, knowing that their family is taken care of. So this program is really designed to allow the soldier to do his or her job at their maximum capability."
-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.
Related: Guardsmen in 6 States Will Get Free Child Care Under Pilot Program