Chief of naval personnel: Navy should expand sabbatical program

Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Bill Moran addresses sailors on May 21, 2014, in Okinawa. Moran is on a tour of Japan to hear sailors' concerns and to discuss everything from retention and advancement to benefits.


By MIKE HIXENBAUGH | The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot (TNS) | Published: January 2, 2015

NORFOLK, Va. (Tribune Content Agency) — Thousands of sailors get out of the Navy every year because they want to start a family. Or to enroll in school. Or because they are burned out on frequent deployments and months away from home.

With the national unemployment rate dropping and more servicemembers leaving for the private sector, the chief of naval personnel says he wants to do everything he can to keep the best sailors in uniform longer — even if that means letting them go for a while.

“We need to offer meaningful incentives to keep the best talent we can, both men and women,” said Vice Adm. Bill Moran, whose job is best summarized as the Navy’s director of human resources.

One way to keep the best, Moran says: Let servicemembers take a sabbatical from service.

He believes sailors should be allowed to leave the Navy for a few years — to have kids, go back to college, travel or just take a break — then return to service at the same rank and on the same career path.

The Navy already offers a program that does just that. But the Career Intermission Pilot Program, authorized by Congress in 2009, is limited to 40 sailors per year. And because of complicated restrictions on who can participate, many of the sailors who most desire a break are excluded.

An example: Sailors trained to work on nuclear reactors leave the service at high rates, in part because of a demanding work schedule, but because they receive a special re-enlistment bonus, they are often ineligible for the sabbatical.

The Navy was initially the only service branch to launch a career intermission program. The Air Force, Army and Marine Corps are each in the process of implementing their own pilot programs.

Moran plans to ask Congress for authority to expand the program and open it up to more sailors, regardless of their years of service or job description.

He acknowledges that so far, there hasn’t been a groundswell of interest. Only about 40 sailors — sometimes fewer — have applied each year for the program, which grants servicemembers up to three years off. Moran thinks sailors are hesitant to risk their careers on a pilot program, another reason he hopes to make it permanent.

The gamble paid off for Capt. Valerie Overstreet, an E-2C Hawkeye pilot. She entered the program in 2010 after becoming the first woman to command a Hawkeye squadron.

The one-year break allowed Overstreet to align her career path with that of her husband, another naval aviator. For years, they lived apart while stationed at different locations.

During the time off, the couple had their first child, something that seemed unlikely while stationed on opposite coasts. That’s a common predicament, according to Navy surveys. Women leave the service at a rate twice that of men, and the desire to start a family is the most reported reason, Moran said.

Overstreet had the baby, returned to service with new orders that allowed her to live full time with her husband and was soon promoted to captain. “It was fantastic,” Overstreet said of the program.

Most of the enlisted sailors who have taken advantage of the pilot program have used the time off, along with the G.I. Bill, to get a degree. Several have since returned and were commissioned as officers.

Two years ago, a SEAL officer took the sabbatical to get a break after years of constant combat deployments and to pursue a degree. He didn’t want to get out of the Navy — he just wanted some time off to recharge, learn something new and spend time with his wife and young children.

Those are the sorts of people Moran said he’s trying to keep.

©2015 The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

In this Navy photo from Oct. 18, 2009, Cmdr. Valerie Overstreet inspects the propellers of an E-2C Hawkeye aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, deployed in the Indian Ocean.

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