Senior Airman Joseph Tharp of the 9th Operations Support Squadron at Beale Air Force Base, California, hugs his pregnant wife, Sarah, in November after returning home from a deployment to Afghanistan. The Air Force plans to offer up to three years off to airmen who want to start a family or pursue other interests. (Airman 1st Class Bobby Cummings/Air Force)
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The Air Force is planning to launch a pilot program later this year that would allow airmen to temporarily leave the service to start a family and return three years later.
The Career Intermission Pilot Program would at first cover 20 officers and 20 enlisted airmen, Air Force personnel chief Lt. Gen. Samuel Cox said Thursday at an Air Force Association breakfast. If the program is a success, it could be expanded to include more airmen.
“Some women leave the Air Force because they want to start a family,” Cox said. “So why don’t we have a program that allows them, in some cases, to be able to separate from the Air Force for a short period of time, get their family started, and then come back in?”
Cox used the example of a female airman who wanted to start a family to explain how such a program could help airmen, but the program would not only be for women. Air Force spokeswoman Rose Richeson said it would be open to both male and female airmen who want “to meet personal or professional needs outside the service while providing a mechanism for seamless return to active duty.”
Participants would enter the Individual Ready Reserve during their time off, Cox said. Many details have not been determined — such as how airmen would be nominated, and the program’s schedule — but Cox said the board will start selecting the first participants before the end of this year.
“It’s going to be a selective group,” Cox said. “It’s not just anybody. We want people that have high potential.”
And to ensure their careers don’t suffer while they are raising a family or pursuing their other goals, Cox said their year groups would be reset when they return. For example, if an officer was in the 2000 year group before temporarily leaving the Air Force, Cox said she would be placed in the 2003 year group when she returns. This would aim to keep those who take time off from falling behind and missing out on promotions and other career opportunities.
Airmen who enter Individual Ready Reserve are often placed on inactive status, meaning they do not draw pay and are not required to drill.
Airmen would only be able to take this career intermission once, Richeson said.
The Navy has also experimented with a Career Intermission Pilot Program, and in 2012 expanded its pilot for three more years.
Sailors who take part in the Navy’s program incur a two-to-one service obligation for every month spent in the program. That means that if a sailor took three years off, he would be required to serve for six years after returning to the Navy, in addition to any other service obligations. Sailors’ time spent in Individual Ready Reserve also does not count toward retirement, computation of total years of commissioned service, or high-year tenure limitations.