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Few takers in first year of Marine career sabbatical program

Jul. 23, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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The Marine Corps’ offer to troops to take three years off from active duty has found few volunteers so far.

Since launching last August, only three Marines have opted into the Career Intermission Pilot Program, according to Marine Corps manpower plans officials.

The program can accommodate up to 40 Marines a year: 20 officers and 20 enlisted troops.

When Marine officials announced the start of the program, they described it as a way to offer career flexibility to Marines with valuable experience and training who might otherwise leave the Corps. Marines in communities with retention challenges, such as intelligence, would get priority, they said.

The Navy, which adopted the military’s first version of the program in 2009, emphasized the needs of the Millennial generation — those born between 1980 and 2000 — saying that this group tended to place a high value on quality of life, including social enterprise and nonprofit opportunities.

A less-publicized goal of the program across the services, sources said, was to retain female officers who wanted to take some time to start a family. This is a particular focal point for the Marine Corps, where women make up less than 7 percent of the enlisted ranks and 6 percent of the officer corps.

The Corps’ three initial CIPP participants are demographically diverse: a male staff sergeant who took two years off, departing the Corps June 29; a female staff sergeant who started a three-year sabbatical July 1; and a male captain, who will begin a two-year break Aug 1.

Since the Marine Corps adopted CIPP, the Army and the Air Force have both followed suit, separately launching their own versions of the program in May.

“Some women leave the Air Force because they want to start a family,” said Air Force Personnel Chief Samuel Cox at the time of the launch. “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?”

The sabbatical programs do come with a catch, though. Approved Marines get a free permanent change of station and a small stipend for living expenses during their career pause. When they return to uniform, though, they’re obligated to serve two additional months for every month they took off — up to six years for those who take the maximum three-year intermission.

It’s not clear, though, why so few Marines have signed up for the break. The Navy’s program has also been a slow starter. As of last year, only 25 officers and 22 enlisted sailors had been accepted.

Last August, Navy Assistant Secretary for Manpower and Reserve Affairs Juan Garcia suggested that CIPP would become more popular.

“I think that’s gonna be a lot more attractive to people if they know they’re going to be viable when it comes to promotion,” he told Military Times. “And I know from hearing from my counterparts in the other services — they’re waiting to see how this plays out, too.”

Lt. Col. Jeffrey Graham, section head for officer plans at Marine Corps Manpower and Reserve Affairs, said there were no plans to change or adjust the Marines’ career intermission program.

“By law, CIPP is currently available through end of [2015],” he said. “We expect that Congress will extend and USMC will continue to maintain a program for the foreseeable future.”

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