Senior Airman Joseph Tharp of Beale Air Force Base, California, hugs his wife, Sarah, in November after returning home from Afghanistan. The Air Force plans to offer up to three years off to airmen who want to start a family or pursue other interests. (Airman 1st Class Bobby Cummings/Air Force)
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The Air Force will select up to 20 enlisted airmen and 20 officers to take one- to three-year sabbaticals to start families or pursue other personal or professional ambitions, the service announced Wednesday.
Airmen can apply for the inaugural Career Intermission Pilot Program from Aug. 15 to Oct. 15, and a total force selection board will meet in November to pick the program’s first participants.
Selected airmen will keep their medical and dental benefits for themselves and their families, and they will maintain commissary and exchange privileges. They’ll also receive a monthly stipend of 1/15 of their monthly basic pay during the time off and get an Air Force-funded permanent change of station move to anywhere in the U.S. when they enter the program, the service said in a news release. At the end of the program, the military will pay for a move to a follow-on base.
Participants won’t be able to compete for promotion during the time off, and those selected before their promotion date won’t pin on their next rank until after they finish the program. And participants’ date of rank will be adjusted so they’ll remain competitive. For example, if an officer is in the 2000 year group before taking three years off, he or she will be placed in the 2003 group when he or she returns.
“This program offers a few high performing airmen the opportunity to focus on priorities outside of their military careers without having to choose between competing priorities,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said in a statement.
The Air Force is the fourth service to pilot the program, which was made possible under the 2009 Defense Authorization Act to address retention of females in the Navy.
The Navy has offered the CIPP since 2009 and could make it a permanent program. The Marine Corps followed in 2013, and the Army plans to select its first 40 participants in September.
The program is similar across the services.
Air Force personnel chief Lt. Gen. Samuel Cox signaled the coming program at an Air Force Association breakfast in May. “Some women leave the Air Force because they want to start a family,” he said at the time. “So why don’t we have a program that allows them, in some cases, to be able to separate from the Air Force for a short period of time, get their family started, and then come back in?”
Though CIPP could potentially help retain women in the Air Force, it is open to males and females.
“The key ... is the airman’s return to duty,” Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody said in a statement. “Top performers with a bright future won’t be lost to premature separation, and upon return, those airmen will bring greater experience, education, knowledge, commitment and passion to their career.”
CIPP airmen must maintain all Air Force standards — including health and fitness — and be able to return to duty at any time, according to the news release. Career field and skill level bonuses won’t be paid during the time off, and airmen can’t collect tuition assistance for the duration. They will be able to use any accrued benefits, like Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, and can retain up to 60 days of earned leave.
The program isn’t open to everyone, including those who can’t complete their service commitment before reaching high year tenure, mandatory retirement or separation for age and years of service. Airmen who are receiving critical skills retention or are fulfilling a service commitment for that bonus also are ineligible. So are airmen who don’t meet physical fitness standards.
The Air Force Personnel Center said it will provide detailed application procedures, points-of-contact and eligibility requirements this month.