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Sailors worry 'intermission' program will hurt careers

Aug. 7, 2013 - 01:09PM   |  
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The Navy is continuing to tout a program that offers a three-year break from service — risk free — but sailors remain suspicious of the option.

The Navy is continuing to tout a program that offers a three-year break from service — risk free — but sailors remain suspicious of the option.

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The Navy is continuing to tout a program that offers a three-year break from service — risk free — but sailors remain suspicious of the option.

The Career Intermission Pilot Program began in 2009, and it allows sailors to take up to three years off from the Navy while retaining health and dental benefits, commissary privileges and leave balances. Sailors must serve in the Individual Ready Reserve during their time “off,” but they cannot be activated. And they still receive one-fifteenth of their monthly base pay.

The Navy is the only service that offers the program, which is intended to help sailors who need time to care for a loved one, get a degree or even just explore the world.

As sailors hear of this benefit, they think there has to be a catch when it comes to advancement opportunity, said Juan Garcia, the Navy’s assistant secretary for manpower and reserve affairs.

“From talking to people as I move around the fleet, I think the reason more enlisted sailors and officers haven’t applied is that there is a skepticism about whether an individual who takes the intermission and comes back will remain upwardly mobile, if you will, and will not be penalized for that time off when it comes to promotion,” Garcia told Navy Times in an exclusive interview.

To prove the program doesn’t hurt your career, he offers up Capt.-select Valerie Overstreet as an example. She’s the first to participate in the program, come back and get promoted.

Overstreet left the Navy as a commander to start a family and get her rotation date in sync with her husband, who also is in the Navy. Prior to participating in the program, their rotation dates were a year and a half apart, so negotiating orders to be in the same city at the same time proved difficult.

She left the Navy in September 2010 and came back to active duty in August 2011, during which time the couple had their first child. Their rotation dates are now only three months apart, making it easier to be stationed together in the future.

In April, Overstreet was selected for captain.

Overstreet said she, too, had doubts that she could take a couple of years off and return to an equal chance for promotion.

“I was definitely concerned because it’s a competitive process, but as soon as I understood how it worked, I trusted the system and I think it worked as it was intended,” she said.

Through the program, a sailor’s time-in-rate or officer’s date of rank is adjusted to account for participation in CIPP to level the field for promotions. This means that sailors continue to compete against those with equal years of experience, not those who have continued to gain experience while the sailor is taking time off.

“The following year back, I was actually on the right timeline where I would’ve been had I not taken the year,” Overstreet said. “It allows you, with what your record was before you left, to stand on your own merit. It’s like you never took the time because of falling back in your date of rank.”

A Navy spokeswoman said that sailors in CIPP receive a “not observed” fitness report or evaluation for their time in the program, similar to when a sailor attends a full-time graduate school program.

The CIPP has openings for 20 enlisted and 20 officer candidates each fiscal year. Even so, only 51 sailors total have participated in the program over its five-year history. Thirty of those participants have come from the enlisted side.

Of the 51 participants, 17 have returned to active duty and Overstreet is the only one — so far — to be promoted.

Bear in mind, the time off isn’t given away for free. Sailors have to pay back that time off with a 2-to-1 ratio, meaning that if you take a year off, you’ll have to commit to at least another two years of service.

For eligibility criteria and an application form, visit www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/support and click on “Life/Work Integration” in the left column, then click on the CIPP link below it.

Garcia said he believes that showing sailors they can take part in the program and still get promoted will help boost applications.

A Navy Times cover story in May centered on CIPP and did boost interest, Navy officials said.

But apparently, it’s going to take more convincing.

“I think that’s gonna be a lot more attractive to people if they know they’re going to be viable when it comes to promotion,” Garcia said. “And I also think that the other services — and I know from hearing from my counterparts in the other services — they’re waiting to see how this plays out, too.”

Staff writer Mark D. Faram contributed to this report.

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