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Take time off from the Navy - and keep your benefits

Career Intermission Program allows up to three years off

May. 6, 2013 - 10:32AM   |  
LCDR Richard Witt, courtesy of photographer Martha Stewart
LCDR Richard Witt, courtesy of photographer Martha Stewart ()
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How to apply

If you’re interested in taking some time off to pursue a goal outside the Navy, the Career Intermission Pilot Program may be a good option, depending on long-term goals, time in service and finances.
To apply, first visit the CIPP website to check that you are eligible. Visit Click on “Life/Work Integration” in the left column and then click on the CIPP link below it.
For the application, you will need to submit some basic personal information, a personal statement and your last two enlisted evaluations or officer fitness reports.
It is a rolling application process and applicants usually receive an answer that they’ve been accepted or denied 60 to 90 days after submitting.
While on intermission, you are still eligible to receive the following pay and benefits:
■ Health and dental benefits for you and your dependents.
■ Allowances for travel to the destination where you’re spending the intermission and travel when returning to active duty.
■ Use of commissary and Navy Exchange.
■ While you can’t use tuition assistance, you can use Montgomery GI Bill and Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.
■ Your date of rank or time in rate will be adjusted forward one day for every day spent on the program, leveling the field for promotions.
■ You will receive 1/15th of your base pay monthly allowance.
Eligible sailors must:
■ Have completed their first enlistment or initial minimum service requirement.
■ Be able to complete service obligation following program without hitting high-year tenure limitations or reaching 20-year retirement eligibility.
■ Meet physical readiness standards.
■ Have had no disciplinary action in the preceding two years.
■ Receive an endorsement from their commanding officer.
Those ineligible include:
■ Officers who failed to be selected for promotion.
■ Those who are executing permanent change-of-station orders.
■ Personnel receiving a critical skills retention bonus.
■ Enlisted personnel not recommended for advancement or retention.
■ Enlisted personnel in a training pipeline.
■ Enlisted chiefs with more than 15 years of service, and all senior and master chiefs.
For community specific eligibility requirements, visit the CIPP website, where you can also find a sample application. You can also refer to OPNAVINST 1330.2B.

When Lt. Cmdr. Richard Witt found out he'd been accepted into the Harvard Kennedy School, he thought he had two choices: end his 13-year military career or say no to Harvard.

When Lt. Cmdr. Richard Witt found out he'd been accepted into the Harvard Kennedy School, he thought he had two choices: end his 13-year military career or say no to Harvard.

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When Lt. Cmdr. Richard Witt found out he’d been accepted into the Harvard Kennedy School, he thought he had two choices: end his 13-year military career or say no to Harvard.

Witt wanted the opportunities that Harvard would afford him — a master’s degree, classmate connections and the skills to continue a career in public service after the military. But the SEAL also had a wife and two kids for whom he wanted stability and health care benefits.

He found a way to do both with the Career Intermission Pilot Program, which allows enlisted sailors and officers to take up to three years off, while keeping some military advantages. During your time off, you still receive health and dental benefits for you and your family. Your time in rank will be adjusted to help with future promotions, though it won’t count toward retirement. And you’ll even receive 1/15th of your base pay.

The cost: Sailors pay back the time at a 2-to-1 ratio. So if you’ve taken three years off, you’ll have to commit to at least six years when you come back. The program has existed since 2009 and has been renewed through at least fiscal 2015. The other services are close to launching similar programs, but only the Navy’s is in effect.

“The benefits are huge for using CIPP, because you know you’re coming back on active duty and don’t need to look for a job,” Witt said. “There’s so much uncertainty when you separate from the military.”

Though the program is open to 20 enlisted and 20 officers each year, only 15 people have taken advantage of the program so far in fiscal 2013. In the five-year history of the program, a total of 200 slots were available. However, only 66 sailors applied and 46 participated.

Most people take an average of two years off and use the time to go to school, spend more time with a child or care for an elderly family member, said Lt. Cmdr. Chris Muller, the program’s manager. Others, however, have taken time off to travel the world or even get a civilian job to decompress a little bit.

Though it may seem expensive to pay for these sailor’s benefits, Muller said it’s worth it.

“The cost of retaining an individual through CIPP is a better deal for the Navy than it would be to train a new person to replace them,” he said.

How it works: A sailor applies to the program and, once accepted, goes through a series of doctor visits and paperwork to process into the Individual Ready Reserve.

Although a sailor can’t be mobilized in the program as a reservist, he will be expected to conduct a virtual muster by email once a month. Also, while most IRRs aren’t subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, those with CIPP must report any civil actions or criminal arrests immediately.

When a sailor leaves on the program, he signs a contract with the Navy secretary stating he will come back to active duty and repay his time on that 2-to-1 ratio.

If a sailor fails to do so, he will be responsible for paying the Navy back for the benefits he used, including health care and the monthly stipend.

This applies to sailors even if they can’t return to active duty because of physical requirements or something compromises their security clearance. Sailors who violate their signed agreement can be separated with an other-than-honorable discharge.

About nine months before the sailor is ready to rejoin active duty, he begins that paperwork and receives a new assignment to transition back.

What's new

When the Navy, in February, extended the program through fiscal 2015, officials also tweaked a few things. First, the program has been opened to a new community of sailors: full-time support sailors who support the Navy Reserve. Second, if someone becomes critically ill or injured while on the intermission, he will get the benefits of an active-duty sailor rather than a reservist.

Finally, leave can be carried over through the break in service. Previously, sailors had been required to either use their leave before taking part in CIPP or use their one-time buyback, a large sacrifice for Lt. Cmdr. Catherine Boehme, who took a year off to spend more time with her family and have a second child. Even though she came back to the service with no leave, Boehme said it was worth having the time off with her family.

“It’s given us a chance to prioritize in life and know how to prioritize family time,” she said. “When we’re at work, we focus on work, and when we’re at home, we focus on home.”

Her year off allowed her to get the service milestones of her husband, a helicopter pilot, out of sync with her own. By participating in CIPP, their tours will not overlap, allowing for “greater flexibility for family management,” Boehme said.

Another factor in deciding whether or not to do the program was family finances. Could they afford it? They managed by scaling back expenses and not saving as much during the year off, she said. While it may have been a hardship at times, Boehme had no regrets.

The allowance of 1/15th of your base pay, dictated by legislation, is meant to provide a “small sustenance” to the sailor while on the program, said Ensign Amber Lynn Daniel, the public affairs officer for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. For a commander who has served more than 10 but less than 12 years, it works out to about $450 a month. For a petty officer second class who has served the same amount of time, the stipend would be about $200 a month.

Participants do not receive their basic housing allowance while on the program.

Other benefits

In addition to health, dental and a stipend, participants receive allowances for travel to wherever they’ll be spending the intermission. For Legalman 1st Class Kate Clark-Dawe, that meant the Navy paid for a move from Bremerton, Wash., to Newport, R.I., where Clark-Dawe is taking three years off to attend law school at Roger Williams University. She plans to apply to the Judge Advocate General’s Corps after finishing her degree. CIPP was the best option for her because other opportunities, such as the Navy’s Law Education Program, are open only to those who are already officers. Her only option other than CIPP would have been to leave the Navy, go to law school and try to re-enter active duty as a JAG, she said.

“My main goal was to stay in the Navy,” she said. “I’d prefer to be a JAG, but I loved being a legalman.”

Having a base nearby in Newport was a huge factor for Clark-Dawe when deciding where to go to law school because of the base facilities available to CIPP participants: the commissary and the Navy exchange.

“I do all my grocery shopping at the commissary and NEX,” she said. “I haven’t had any issues. My card is registered up until August 2015, so I have no problems getting on base.”

Sailors who go out on the program get the advantage of an adjusted year group to ensure they get a fair shot at advancements and promotions. A sailor’s date of rank or time in rate will be adjusted forward one day for each day he is in the program. The dates of service look a little off if someone looks at the sailor’s full record, but Muller said that Navy leadership and those who sit on advancement boards are well aware of the program.

Witt said he thinks participating in CIPP will give him a leg up when it comes to advancement.

“My record has always been a top performer, and it’ll show up in the record like I never left,” he said. “Plus, I’ll have the benefit of having a Harvard master’s degree.”

Clark-Dawe said she is not worried about her chances at a promotion because getting accepted to the JAG Corps would be a large jump up for her.

Boehme recommended staying in touch with the community and getting their support before going out on the program to ensure a seamless transition back in for advancement.

The first people who went out on the program have been back in the Navy since August 2011, and their promotions were in line with where they should be, Muller said.

Recently, Cmdr. Valerie Overstreet became the first CIPP participant to be selected for promotion after taking a career intermission. She was selected to advance to the rank of captain in an April message.

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