The U.S. military employs more than 2 million uniformed service members, both on active duty and in the reserve components. Off duty, those service members are supported every day by 2.6 million family members — without whose support they wouldn't be nearly as able to serve their country. In addition, more than 700,000 DOD civilian employees support the armed forces.
More than aircraft, boats and tanks, the U.S. military relies on its men and women in uniform, and the family members who support them every day, to accomplish the warfighting mission.
The National Defense Strategy, laid out in 2018, defined three lines of effort: building a more lethal force; strengthening alliances and attracting new partners; and reforming the department for greater performance and affordability.
When Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper came on board in July 2019, he added a fourth line of effort: taking care of military personnel and their families. It's something he's been focused on since his first day in office.
"We recognize that our people are our greatest resource," Esper said. "Their hard work at home and abroad keeps our nation safe and determines the success of the NDS. That is why I continue to prioritize the well-being of our service members and their families, and routinely hold family and force town halls during my domestic and international trips to hear directly from them about their concerns."
One of the most important things for military personnel and their families is that which is closest to home: where they live and what they get paid.
To support families, the department has worked to secure robust pay and benefits packages for military personnel. The department has also worked to improve child care availability for uniformed personnel and directed that spousal license reciprocity be a factor in basing decisions. Working with the State Department, DOD also hopes to improve on-and off-base hiring of spouses and dependents.
To make military housing feel more like home, the department has also implemented improvements to on-base housing, including the implementation of a "Tenant Bill of Rights."
Recent health concerns with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, which have been used on military bases as part of fire-fighting efforts, have resulted in the creation of a PFAS task force to better protect service members and the communities that surround military installations.
To ensure every service member is truly treated as an equal among peers, new departmental initiatives promote equal opportunity, diversity, and inclusion in the ranks. There is a short-term "sprint" to identify immediate actions, such as removing photographs from consideration by promotion boards and selection processes. An internal, mid-term Defense Board on Diversity and Inclusion will undertake a more comprehensive evaluation and assessment of military policies, processes, and practices to improve racial diversity and is expected to provide ideas by the end of the year. The department is also creating a long-term Defense Advisory Committee on Diversity and Inclusion in the armed services.
To provide better equality and opportunity for pregnant service members, the secretary has also directed the department to adapt policies related to deployments, assignments, professional military education, and other matters to remove barriers to professional advancement.
DOD also implemented all 22 recommendations from the Sexual Assault Accountability and Investigation Task Force, and the department launched a program to help identify serial offenders. Overall, DOD has seen a more than 30% decrease in sexual assaults from 10 years ago and a four-fold increase in reporting.