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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE — The Navy is exploring an unprecedented program to allow servicemembers to voluntarily put on hold — or even end — their military service to pursue other interests.

“This is (about) off-ramps and on-ramps and how flexible can we make it,” the Navy’s chief of personnel, Vice Adm. John C. Harvey, is quoted on the Navy Times Web site. “It’s not just about women and child care, either. The program needs to be flexible enough to deal with as broad a base of life situations as possible, because that career flexibility is going to be very important to our ability to attract and keep these folks in.”

“The people we recruit today have different values and goals than those of 20-30 years ago,” said Lt. Justin Cole, spokesman for the chief of naval personnel, in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes. “There are many versions of this type of idea and we are currently exploring which avenue would be the best way to go.”

One version being considered would allow sailors to leave the service to raise families, pursue college degrees or chase other opportunities, officials said.

If after the break the servicemember returns to active duty, he would assume the same rank and promotion eligibility he earned before leaving, Cole said.

“The plans we are working now involve two- to three-year absences,” he said.

And if civilian life seems to be working, the servicemember would have no obligation to return to active duty, Cole said.

The Navy has yet to announce eligibility requirements to participate in such a program.

While the program remains on the drawing board, sailors thought such a hiatus could yield many quality-of-life benefits.

“It’s got some interesting possibilities,” said Seaman William Coleman, a personnel specialist stationed aboard the Yokosuka-based cruiser USS Lake Erie. “I definitely think that something like this would increase the number of people earning their college degree.”

Petty Officer 2nd Class Reed Daunte, a culinary specialist serving aboard USS Blue Ridge, agreed.

“A lot of times, if someone goes to school, they want to focus on their education without having to worry about operational issues,” Daunte said.

Under current rules, a sailor must serve his enlistment, barring extraordinary circumstances, before being allowed to separate from the Navy, said Chief Petty Officer Richard Moran, the Navy recruiter in charge of Navy Recruiting Station, Far East.

After that, Moran said, a sailor has up to 90 days to re-enter the Navy.

But that’s not as cut and dried as it may seem, Moran stressed.

“The enlisted community manager still controls all of the billets, and all decisions are made on a case-by-case basis,” he explained.

Many factors would need consideration before allowing someone to re-enter the Navy, Moran said. Has a person remarried and now suddenly has several children? Has someone’s ability to qualify for a security clearance changed?

One of Moran’s fellow recruiters, Chief Petty Officer Ernie Diaz, sees the program as among other “force shaping” programs, such as Perform to Serve. In that program, first-term sailors in ratings with little advancement opportunity can re-enlist and retrain in a rating where advancement is better and the fleet most needs skilled people.

“It looks like another way to manage the numbers of sailors in the Navy,” said Diaz. “But after a two-year break, I just don’t see very many people coming back. All I can say is, ‘Read the fine print.’”

Many issues remain to be worked out before a pilot program would be announced.

“The important thing to remember is that we are doing our research to make sure we develop a program that will be beneficial to all parties involved — the Navy, the sailor and the family,” Cole said.

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