Army National Guard troops across six states will soon have a new option for securing childcare for drill weekends, according to a National Guard Bureau memorandum obtained by Army Times.
Members of the Army Guard who are assigned to units in the following six states will be able to enroll in the program starting Sept. 1 in preparation for drill weekends beginning in November:
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- Washington state
The “Weekend Drill Child Care Pilot” won’t cost anything for the troops who use it, the memo signed by NGB personnel chief Maj. Gen. Eric Little stated. The general described “lack of weekend drill childcare” as an issue that’s “impacting Soldier retention.”
According to the memo, the pilot is scheduled to run for a year, though NGB has the option to extend annually for two additional years and add more states “based on available funds.”
The program is built into an existing Army contract with nonprofit Child Care Aware of America that assists active duty and Active Guard/Reserve families with daycare fees. For the new pilot, the company will oversee enrollment and find providers for the participating part-time troops.
Who is eligible to enroll?
The memo explains that troops can only participate if their kids are their legal dependents registered in DEERS and between six weeks and 12 years in age.
Participating soldiers also need to be in good standing with their units, and their commanders will have to certify that there won’t be another adult available in the household to care for the children during the drill weekend.
Troops who apply will need to show verification that the other adult in their household has an employment or school conflict with the drill weekends.
Enrollment will happen on a monthly basis, the memo said, with participating soldiers required to apply more than a month ahead of time. Guard members who wish to receive childcare for drill in November will need to register online with the contractor and submit their reservation request by Oct. 1.
Once approved, the program funds up to 12 hours of childcare per drill day, with either the soldier or another designated adult from the household required to pick up their children daily.
Child Care Aware will directly pay providers, too, meaning participating troops won’t have to go through a cumbersome reimbursement process.
Why are Guard troops getting free childcare?
Although some argue that Guard troops should be required to use their official “family care plans” to cover their childcare requirements during drill weekends, a recent Army directive clarified that those plans are intended for periods of extended absence from home rather than routine duties like drill.
Drill paychecks for junior troops don’t go far, either — a brand-new private first class only makes $288.20 per two-day drill before taxes and benefits deductions. Many members also face commuting costs that have jumped in the past year, leaving little cash to pay a short-term babysitter.
The Washington Post reported last year that Guard troops and their families experience food insecurity at more than double the national rate, “more…than nearly any other group, regardless of household income, education, age or race.”
Eliminating child care costs for Guard troops could potentially ease the financial impact that drill weekends currently have on the part-time soldiers, particularly those who work weekends for their civilian careers and lose wages while attending drill.
One potential flaw is the requirement that troops reside in the state where they serve in order to participate in the program. An unknown number of Guard troops around the country don’t live where they serve — especially in regions like New England where several small states closely border one another.
According to the memo, participating states will soon issue guidance helping soldiers to apply using the Child Care Aware website.
Military Times senior reporter Karen Jowers contributed to this story.