In a little-known personnel policy, members of the armed forces can take a so-called "intermission" from their service contract if they feel that the military is holding back their personal development.
The Air Force is launching its third iteration of the "Career Intermission Program," or CIP, which allows airmen to take a sabbatical from their Air Force career while they pursue what Air Force Times calls "personal goals."
"Some women leave the Air Force because they want to start a family," Lt. Gen. Samuel Cox told the Times in 2014. "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, get their family started and then come back in?"
The Air Force does not consider the reasons for wanting to take time off when deciding who to admit into the new program, which has been in development for a few years. While starting a family was one of the primary ideas for implementing the pilot program, higher education quickly became the primary motivation.
Capt. Tamiko Gheen carries her son, Gavin, while hiking. Gheen is taking three years away from the Air Force through the service's Career Intermission Program. She's expecting her second child and hopes to get a master's degree while spending more time with her family during the break.
In the first year of the CIP program, 70 percent of airmen opted to go back to school with the remainder leaving to start families or take care of ailing relatives.
All branches of the military were authorized for such programs in the 2009 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), at the Navy's request.
The Marine Corps started its program in 2013 with the Army following suit in 2014. The Navy program offered retention of full health and dental coverage, continued commissary and base shopping privileges and a payment of a small reserve stipend. Other branches used that as a guide for their own programs.
Career Intermission puts participants into the Individual Ready Reserve with limited benefits before they are returned to active duty at the end of their program. They are also required to maintain all service branches' health and fitness standards and periodically check in to their respective services. The catch is that any military member in their service's CIP is required to serve an additional two months of Active Duty for every month on the CIP.
Lt. Cmdr. Danielle Leiby took the time to start a family.
In 2015, 59 airmen — 22 officers and 37 enlisted — applied to the Air Force program. The application window for the second round closed at the end of August 2015, and a panel convened at the end of September to choose who will begin those sabbaticals. The program is limited to 20 enlisted and 20 officers per service.
Congress may potentially extend the program to 400, again, at the Navy's request. Sgt. Major of the Army Dan Dailey thinks the caps in place are there for a reason.
"You don't want to punish people for doing it, but you don't necessarily want to sell it, either, because not everybody can do it," Dailey told the Army Times. "There's always going to be a limit to those things."
Troops in critical functions or accepting critical skills retention bonuses are not considered for the CIP, although exceptions can be made for hardship situations. It's also important to check the service-specific guidelines for application. The Army's CIP is limited to NCOs. Acceptance and benefits to the program are at the discretion of the individual service secretaries.
The window to apply for the third iteration of the Air Force CIP is now open.