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German Defense Minister von der Leyen seeks to make Bundeswehr more family friendly

Germany’s new defense minister has said she plans to introduce reforms to the armed forces to make it easier for soldiers to combine their career with family life. The minister is herself the mother of seven children.

Defense Minister

Ursula von der Leyen

said in an interview published in this Sunday's edition of the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that Germany's armed forces, the Bundeswehr, needed to do more to cater to its soldiers who are also mothers or fathers.

"My aim is to make the Bundeswehr to one of the most attractive employers in Germany," von der Leyen said.

German soldiers "love their job, but they also want their marriages to last and lead a happy family life," she added.

The Bundeswehr has been an army of volunteers since

Germany ended conscription in mid-2011.

More child care

One of the key areas in which she said she hoped to introduce improvements was in child care.

"We need a flexible child care system for the Bundeswehr," she said, adding that she would seek to expand the use of care givers, particularly those who can provide the service in off hours, when day-care centers are not available.

"This is a particularly flexible form of child care, and we have the advantage of having room for this on many of our bases," she said.

Less moving around

Von der Leyen said she also saw the current practice of transferring soldiers between bases every few years as a significant strain on family life, and that in future this should be reduced to a minimum.

"A career in the Bundeswehr should not mean that as a rule you are always on duty and have to move every few years," she said. "I plan to closely scrutinize the system of almost automatic transfers that occur every two or three years," she added.

Von der Leyen, who is a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, became Germany's first female defense minister when

she was sworn in along with the rest of the new grand coalition cabinet

last month. She took over the post from

Thomas de Maiziere,

who moved to the interior portfolio. Von der Leyen served under previous Merkel governments as labor and social affairs minister and the minister of family affairs, senior citizens, women and youth.

pfd/tj (AFP, dpa)

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