Sailors haven’t had ample opportunities this fiscal year to use up their leave due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Navy leaders.

That’s why the service is expanding its special leave accrual policy for all sailors — regardless of duty station, according to a NAVADMIN released July 28.

While sailors have been permitted to carry over up to 120 days of leave under a 2020 Pentagon special leave accrual policy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Navy’s updated guidance makes several key changes. First, it extends the amount of time sailors may carryover a leave balance greater than 60 days by an additional year, from Sept. 2023 to Sept. 2024.

And secondly, it means leave accrued during all of fiscal year 2021 will go toward a sailor’s special leave accrual balance, according to Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. John Nowell Jr.

“What we do in the Navy is hard on a normal day,” Nowell told reporters Thursday. “And then when you look at COVID, we know that it’s important for folks to have a chance to take some time off.”

Although Nowell admitted it isn’t always easy to take leave, he said that the Navy is encouraging sailors to take time off to “rest and recharge” rather than “hoard that leave.”

The Pentagon originally announced in April 2020 it was modifying its leave-accrual policy because of canceled leave and travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under that policy, service members could acquire more than the standard 60 days of leave up to 120 days between March 11, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2020. They could then use that leave through Sept. 30, 2023.

Leave that was earned after Oct.1 2020 was subject to normal leave policies — meaning it would go toward the service member’s total leave balance and would be used first before service members utilized any days from their special leave accrual balance.

But fiscal year 2021 didn’t present dramatically different circumstances for sailors, according to Fleet Master Chief Wes Koshoffer. That’s why the Navy wanted to give sailors an additional opportunity to earn more time off, since there hasn’t been “ample opportunity to use the leave,” he said.

“The conditions have varied so much region to region, area to area,” Koshoffer told reporters. “Rather than try to parse out from one sailor to another in a unique circumstance, it really just made sense to pursue special leave accrual again for the entirety of the Navy, all sailors.”

The special leave accrual policy modification permits enlisted sailors to “sell back” any leave they have that exceeds 120 days, but this is something a sailor may only do once in his or her career. Officers may not sell back excess leave.

The Navy isn’t the only service to expand the special leave accrual policy amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Navy’s latest update also applies to the Marine Corps, according to Nowell.

Furthermore, the move comes after the Air Force unveiled this week that the service was allowing them to accrue additional vacation days for the remainder of the fiscal year — up to 120 days — and use that up until Sept. 30, 2024.

The Air Force’s policy also applies to Space Force Guardians, along with Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve members.

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