The Army continues to offer a special program for active-duty officers, warrant officers and enlisted soldiers who want to pursue personal or professional goals while taking a break of up to 36 months from their military careers.

The unconventional service option, called the Career Intermission Pilot Program, was launched one year ago, six years after being authorized by Congress as a retention incentive for all the services.

Army CIPP is now open for calendar 2015, which will allow the service to assess its viability for possible expansion or future adoption as a career track alternative for active-duty soldiers.

The program initially was authorized in 2009, and over the past seven years has steadily gained in popularity with the Navy Department, which views it as a potential major retention incentive for top-quality sailors and Marines.

The CIPP is optional for the services, but the Army has been slow to offer the program, apparently because until the recent past it was in a growth mode and not supportive of any program that would draw, even temporarily, quality troops from the active-duty force, according to service personnel officials.

When the Army pilot was offered for the first time in 2014, the service approved nine of 10 applicants for enrollment.

Since then, three of the soldiers have dropped out of the program, and the remaining six — two officers and four enlisted members — have started their career breaks. Reasons for signing up could include: education enrollment, time to care for aging parents or even to align assignment cycles as members of the Married Army Couples Program. Soldiers could even use the time to see the world, or complete other personal adventure goals.

Under prompting from the Navy, Congress is considering legislation as part of the fiscal 2016 budget process that would expand the annual CIPP enrollment cap for each of the services from its current level of 40 people to 400, while relaxing certain enrollment criteria and increasing the pay of service members when they are on career intermission.

"While the Army supports the Navy's request to expand the authority, and to make it permanent in law, we are too early in our own use of this authority to fully evaluate it benefits or drawbacks," according to a statement provided by the Office of the Army G1 at the Pentagon.

"The use of the program is at service secretary discretion, and carries with it a responsibility to report back to Congress each year on its effectiveness and scope within our service.

"We will be continuing to accept applicants and to select participants in order to offer career flexibility to some of our proven performers in the enlisted and officer grades," according to the G1 statement.

Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey said he likes the idea behind the career intermission program, as well as a more flexible process that would allow soldiers to easily transition between components.

"I think it's very tough to manage," Dailey said. "Our intent is we give someone the ability to do that ... and not have them at a disadvantage with their peers."

But the Army also must consider how such programs might impact readiness and morale, he said.

"You've got to think about the morale of the people that stay and the contribution they continue to make," Dailey said. "Is it fair? What message are you sending? Is it better now to take a sabbatical? There's a lot of stuff we've got to work out with that."

Programs like the intermission program must have limits, Dailey said.

"You don't want to punish people for doing it, but you don't necessarily want to sell it, either, because not everybody can do it," he said. "There's always going to be a limit to those things."

Career intermissions currently are available to no more than 20 officers and 20 enlisted soldiers. Some soldiers cite family reasons for signing up for the break.

Photo Credit: Sgt. Alan Graziano/Army

Who is eligible?

In its current form, the Army CIPP is open to select categories of Regular Army and Active Guard and Reserve (Army Reserve) soldiers who have completed their initial active-duty service obligation, and who will have fewer than 17 years of creditable service for retirement on the date they apply for the program.

As stipulated by Congress, career intermission breaks are capped at no more than 36 months in length, and are available to no more than 20 officers and 20 enlisted soldiers.

Additional Army-specific criteria for calendar 2015 requires that RA commissioned officers be members of year groups 1999 through 2011, while enlisted soldiers must be in the ranks of sergeant or staff sergeant, and not be assigned to one of several high-priority military occupational specialties.

Specialties closed to the program include: all the Special Forces MOSs; 12D diver; 25D cyber network defender; 31D CID special agent; 35L counterintelligence agent; 35P cryptologic linguist; 35Q cryptologic network warfare specialist; 37F psychological operations specialist; 38B civil affairs specialist; 51C contracting NCO; and 79R recruiter.

Active Guard and Reserve commissioned officers, warrant officers and enlisted soldiers must have completed their initial three-year term of active duty to qualify for the program.

Some service members sign up for career intermissions in order to gain a college degree.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Fuse

As written by lawmakers, the CIPP authorizing legislation does not allow program enrollment for service members who have incurred service obligations related to retention incentives, such as bonuses or government-funded civil schooling.

Army-specific restrictions apply to soldiers who have incurred active-duty service obligations under the Selective Retention Bonus program, the Critical Skills Retention Bonus program, flight school attendance and graduate school attendance.

Also ineligible are officers with service obligations related to the post-commissioning station-of-choice and branch-of-choice programs; officers, warrant officers and NCOs who have been centrally selected for professional military education courses; special branch officers assigned to the Army Medical Department, Judge Advocate General's Corps or Chaplain Corps; soldiers who are scheduled for deployment and enlisted soldiers who have been conditionally promoted, but who have yet to complete the requisite NCO Education System course for their new rank.

Human Resources command will entertain requests for exceptions to these Army-specific requirements, provided the waiver would not violate one of the CIPP provisions stipulated in law.

Participation in this year's CIPP is limited to 40 soldiers — 10 officers (commissioned and warrant) and 10 enlisted members.

However, available quotas by branch, area of concentration, career field and military occupational specialty will be determined by the officer and enlisted readiness divisions of HRC, according to a directive governing the 2015 program.

Benefits and how to apply

Soldiers approved for participation will be transferred from their active-duty component, either the Regular Army or the Active Guard and Reserve, to the Individual Ready Reserve in a non-participating and inactive status.

During their period of career intermission, these soldiers will not be required to attend drills or participate in other military activities.

Upon completion of the intermission, soldiers will return to active service with the RA or AGR where they will regain promotion eligibility, and resume the professional development track of assignments and schooling for their specialty and rank.

During the period of intermission soldiers will keep military medical benefits for themselves and family members, and will receive a pay stipend equal to 1/15th of their military base pay.

For a sergeant E5 with more than four years of service that would equate to about $220 monthly, and for a captain with five years of service about $350 monthly.

Participants must sign a contract in which they agree to serve two months on active duty for every month they spend in the CIPP.

Application packets for the CIPP should be submitted to Human Resources Command on an open enrollment basis, as described in MilPer Message 15-161, dated May 29. Before being submitted, the packets should be processed through the applicant's first lieutenant colonel-level commander.

In addition to including a signed contract stipulating service obligations, and a CIPP counseling form, application packets should include the applicant's most recent officer or enlisted record brief and a written statement explaining why the soldier is apply for CIPP.

Requested separation dates from the RA or AGR must be no earlier than nine months from when the applicant wants to leave active duty.

While the requested period of career intermission cannot exceed 36 months, soldiers who are approved for the program will be allowed to terminate their intermission earlier than the end date stipulated in the CIPP contract.

Upon return to the Regular Army or Active Guard and Reserve, the soldier's active duty service obligation or service-remaining requirement will be adjusted to reflect a shorter commitment.

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