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Time off for soldiers

Army policy offering up to three-year service break now a permanent program

Soldiers and civilians stand as their degrees are conferred by their colleges' representatives during a Fort Knox Army Education Center college graduation ceremony at Waybur Theater, Oct. 17, 2019, on Fort Knox, Ky. Photo credit: Sgt. Nahjier Williams

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WASHINGTON - A retention policy offering soldiers a chance to take a break in service while receiving pay and benefits for up to three years is now a permanent program.

The sabbatical program, called the Career Intermission Program, or CIP, is a way for soldiers to take a knee in service for personal or professional goals when they might have otherwise left the Army, said Rowland Heflin, a personnel policy integrator with the Army G-1.

The Army allows officers and enlisted soldiers a chance to transition from the Regular Army and Army Reserve Active Guard Reserve, or AGR, program to the Individual Ready Reserve for a length of time not to exceed three years.

During their sabbaticals, soldiers might use the time to start families, care for ailing parents, attend college, or whatever else they need a break for, he said.

While in the CIP program, soldiers are given a monthly stipend of two-thirtieths of their basic pay along with the same medical benefits and commissary privileges. In addition, they can carry forward up to 60 days of leave on their return to active duty, Heflin said.

Lawmakers first allowed a version of the program as a pilot in 2009. The Army initiated the pilot program through a directive in 2014, which the new policy supersedes and makes the program permanent, Heflin said.

How it works

Under 10 U.S.C. 710 and Department of Defense Instruction 1327.07, soldiers in the CIP program must pay back time away from the Army by incurring a two for one obligation. In other words, "for every month that they spend in the program, they incur a two-month obligation," Heflin explained.

Although soldiers receive a fraction of their base pay, any special or incentive pay or bonus is suspended until they return to active duty. Upon their return, soldiers will begin to receive any special or incentive pay or bonus they had before entering CIP.

While in the program, soldiers are also entitled to travel and transportation allowances to a location in the U.S. designated as their residence, followed by the designated location of their assignment upon their return to the Army, according to a policy letter signed earlier this month by acting Secretary of the Army John Whitley.

"This is retention from a different angle," Heflin said. "The Army spends a lot of resources in training soldiers so they can perform whatever mission they have. But, when a soldier runs into a personal issue or a desire to increase their civilian education they don't always find it amenable to do that on active duty."

CIP is an alternative for that. "It provides a way for them to be relieved from active duty, focus on their personal goals, and then return to active duty," Heflin added.

By investing in time away today, Heflin believes soldiers will better themselves professionally and personally before returning to active duty with a longer service commitment. However, soldiers who do not meet eligibility requirements on return to active duty will be subject to the repayment provisions of their pay or bonus agreement, the letter read.

Although education is cited as a major reason for entering CIP, soldiers are not eligible for tuition assistance while in the IRR. Instead, many use their Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, Heflin said.

Eligible soldiers include active-duty officers in all competitive categories, including the Chaplain Corps, Judge Advocate General's Corps and the Army Medical Corps, active-duty warrant officers, and active-duty enlisted soldiers in the ranks of sergeant through master sergeant are eligible for the program.

In addition, Army Reserve AGR officers, warrant officers and enlisted soldiers who have completed their initial three-year term of qualified duty may be approved, the letter read.

Now that the directive has been signed, G-1 plans to codify it into a permanent Army regulation, Heflin said.

Soldiers who are interested can be counseled on the benefits, compensation, medical care, and other obligations associated with entering the program. The counseling will be documented in writing, with a copy placed into the soldier's Army military human resource record.

"When these applications are received at our Army Human Resources Command, the career management branch gets a chop on the decision, then there is a panel at HRC that reviews the files of applicants to make a recommendation to the (commanding general) for approval or disapproval," Heflin said.

Soldiers can go to the HRC's website or speak with their local Army career counselor, who can provide them guidance on the program along with the documents required for the application.

"We don't want to lose good soldiers," Heflin said. "We want to be able for them to keep that balance between the things that happen in (their) lives along with their professional responsibilities."

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