The Air Force on Tuesday announced more deferrals for new mothers, including extending exemptions for fitness assessments from the former six months to a full year.

In a news release, the Air Force said that female airmen who have had pregnancies lasting at least 20 weeks — including those who miscarry — will be exempted from physical training assessments for a year. The PT extension parallels the one-year Post-Pregnancy Deployment Deferment, which Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James announced March 4.

The Air Force is also extending to one year post-pregnancy deferments for short tours overseas, dependent-restricted assignments overseas and temporary duty assignments — anywhere a mother would not be allowed to bring a dependent.

James hopes the deferment changes will improve the retention of skilled female airmen who may otherwise separate after becoming mothers.

"The goal is to alleviate the strain on some of our talented airmen who choose to leave the Air Force as they struggle to balance deployments and family issues, and this is especially true soon after childbirth," James said in the Tuesday release. "Like many other programs announced earlier this year, such as the Career Intermission Program [which allows airmen to take a three-year sabbatical], we recognize the potential retention benefits associated with providing our female airmen options that allow them to serve and support their family without having to choose one over the other."

Female airmen who give birth on or after March 6 are eligible for the extended deployment and PT deferment. The Air Force chose that date to minimize the disruption to the deployment process.

The Air Force is also extending to one year post-pregnancy deferments for short tours overseas, permanent change of station moves and temporary duty assignments.

Airmen can choose to waive the extended deferments if they choose.

The Air Force said further guidance on the changes is expected to come in the next few weeks. It is also continuing to research whether it will extend its current six-week maternity leave program, as the Navy recently did.

Stephen Losey covers Air Force leadership and personnel issues as the senior reporter for Air Force Times.

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