The Sgt. Maj. of the Army wants soldiers to take a three-year break — with a catch

SMA isn't ready to say goodbye to you just yet.

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston isn’t ready to say goodbye to you just yet.

In an email sent out to the Army last Thursday, Grinston encouraged leaders to look at their soldiers’ long-term potential and consider the Career Intermission Program (CIP) as “a permanent option.” The CIP allows soldiers to take a break from service for up to three years while ensuring they can easily re-enter active duty service when the time comes, according to the Army

But it does come with some strings attached: For every month you take off, you’ll owe two to the Army.

“Informed decisions are better decisions,” Grinston said in the email. “I’m asking our leaders to stay engaged and use their judgement to recommend this program to help ensure we aren’t losing our talented soldiers unnecessarily.”

The program was created in 2014 as a pilot, and officially made into a permanent program just last month on May 6. Since 2014 the number of soldiers who have participated in the Career Intermission Program is very low: Only 22 people — 10 officers and 12 enlisted soldiers — have entered the program, according to the Army’s Talent Management Task Force. 

Soldiers who participate owe a 2-1 time commitment for every month they’re away — take one year off, owe two — and can expect to continue receiving 2/30ths of their base pay. Soldiers can also keep their health care while in the program, retain on-post access, and are given a travel and transportation allowance to get them from their current assignment to wherever they need to be for the intermission program. They can also come back on active duty early if they decide to. 

The way the Army sees it, allowing someone to take a few months or years off to take care of things in their personal lives could help retain that soldier in the long term. Grinston said in his email last week that there are “no specific reasons to apply, and no list of acceptable criteria which could account for all the variables life throws at us.”

“Many have utilized CIP to get a degree, take care of a family member, raise a child, align professional timelines with a spouse, or acquire a professional skill,” he said. “Regardless of the reason, eligible soldiers can be placed in an Individual Ready Reserve status for up to three years.” 

The reasons people decide to leave the military vary wildly, and range from experiencing racism to getting fed up with the way the military operates, so the program may not be the answer for every issue a service member is facing. But for soldiers who want a career in the Army but are facing temporary hurdles, like rehabilitating after an injury or because they need more time at home to help care for young children while a spouse is focusing on their career — taking a year or two off in return for a few more years of service could be the key. 

One officer who participated, Maj. Elizabeth Eaton-Ferrenzi, said she decided to take advantage of the intermission program because she and her husband, who is also in the military, needed to realign their career timelines. She said it was a “relatively simple process” to apply, but took around a year to be approved. 

“I think you really have to evaluate on an individual basis, is it right for you based on your family life, based on your professional career,” Eaton-Ferrenzi said. “If their circumstances are something where they want to pursue a higher degree or they want to travel the world, or if they just need a break.” 

And who among us doesn’t need a break? Our only word of advice is to stay on top of your PT… you’ll be back to the sprint-drag-carry before you know it.

Featured photo: Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston visits the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning to observe one station unit training including the 1st 100 Yards, a training event to teach Warrior Ethos and esprit de corps, Oct. 22, 2020. (U.S. Army/Patrick A. Albright)

Haley Britzky

Haley Britzkyis the Army reporter for Task & Purpose, covering the daily happenings in the Army and how they impact soldiers and their families, as well as broader national security issues. Originally from Texas, Haley previously worked at Axios before joining Task & Purpose in January 2019. Contact the author here.

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