Fort Belvoir –
When Maj. Laura Houck, assistant product manager for Soldier Maneuver Systems within Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier, joined the Army in 2010, she did so as a way to give back and have adventure as a new Lieutenant. In doing so, she found herself on the ground floor of substantive change for women in the military. Her first duty station was in Alaska and at a time when the Army was just integrating women into combat units. While she served as her unit’s first female officer, she says biggest change she’s seen for women in her time in the Army is improved support for families.
“The new parental guidance allows parents the ability to remain flexible with their jobs and continue to serve without feeling like they have to choose between being serving in the military or being a parent. On average in the civilian sector, most women in professional positions have six weeks of paternity leave, but the military just expanded that to up to 18 weeks. I think that’s where you really see the Army not only supporting women, but supporting the military family. It’s helped me continue my service as not just as a military officer, but as a spouse and a mother of two girls,” said Houck.
Mil-to-mil marriages can be complicated by servicemembers having different rotation cycles. Houck says changes to policy have made it easier for and her husband, who is also a Major in the Army, to stay together.
“Policy changes occurred allowing servicemembers to attend professional military education while pregnant. Previously, servicemembers could not attend several Army courses without a current physical fitness test, which misaligns with a pregnancy profile. Now that policy waives the test, which directly allowed me to remain on my desired professional timeline. I absolutely think that has helped retention. It directly benefitted me as well as I was able to complete my Command and General Staff College as a Major while pregnant and allowed my husband and I to remain on the same move cycle. These kinds of policy changes have directly supported me and help retain talent in the military,” said Houck.
Houck says Army leadership were also very supportive of her in both of her pregnancies and maternity leave was never an issue.
“As a new parent, I never once felt that I was deterrent to the mission or treated differently. Peers, subordinates, and leaders are supportive of growing your family while still supporting the mission,” said Houck.
In her career, Houck says she’s benefited greatly from having mentors guide her through challenges and advises junior Soldiers to seek out mentorship to help them become the best versions of themselves.
“Find a mentor whose career you think is interesting and a path that you want to take. Talk to them and learn from their experiences; and not just in the same career field, but find someone whose personal life also aligns with yours to try and help mold what you want your path to look like in the Army. I would also suggest that you never doubt yourself, because you can probably do a lot more than you believe you can,” said Houck.