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Air Force to test sabbatical program for limited number of airmen

A limited number of airmen wanting to start a family, earn a law degree or accomplish a life goal that’s not achievable while on active duty may soon have the option of taking a long sabbatical without sacrificing their careers.

A new Air Force pilot program will enable up to 40 airmen per year to step away from their military jobs for one to three years. The goal of the Career Intermission Pilot Program is to provide airmen with a one-time opportunity to meet personal or professional needs outside the service and then seamlessly return to active duty, according to an Air Force memorandum.

Congress first authorized the military services to implement a career intermission program in 2009. Until now, the Navy was the only branch of the military to offer the program, introducing it five years ago and extending it for three more years in 2012.

Lt. Gen. Samuel Cox, the Air Force’s deputy chief of manpower, personnel and services, announced that the Air Force would try the program during a breakfast on Thursday in Arlington, Virginia, sponsored by the Air Force Association.

AFA reported the announcement Friday in its online magazine. An Air Force spokeswoman at the Pentagon confirmed the announcement.

Air Force officials said the service was still working through some of the details of the program. Cox at the breakfast said the program could benefit women who otherwise might end their military careers to start a family. “Why don’t we have a program that allows them, in some cases, to separate from the Air Force for a short period of time, get the family started, then come back,” Cox said, according to the AFA Magazine report.

Under normal circumstances, female airmen are currently authorized about 42 days of maternity leave after the birth of a child.

The program would be open to up to 20 officers and 20 enlisted personnel each year, through 2015, according to Air Force guidance. Airmen during the time off would move from active duty to the Individual Ready Reserve. They would retain military medical and dental benefits for themselves and eligible dependents and would receive a monthly stipend equal to one-fifteenth of their monthly basic pay, according to Air Force guidance. Upon return to active duty, date of retirement would be adjusted by the number of days the airman was on sabbatical.

The program aims to hang on to talented airmen who might otherwise choose to leave the service to pursue other goals.

“The long-term intent of this program is to retain the valuable experience and training of top performing Airmen that might otherwise be lost by permanent separation,” Air Force guidance on the program said. “This work-life flexibility initiative will enable the USAF to retain talent which reduces cost and adverse impacts on the mission.”

In selecting candidates for the program, the Air Force will assess an airman’s potential to serve the Air Force in the future, looking at such factors as job performance, professional qualities, leadership, and depth and breadth of experience, according to the guidance. An applicant’s intended use of the career pause will also be considered.

No timeline has been set yet for the program’s implementation, according to the AFA Magazine report.

svan.jennifer@stripes.com

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