Wednesday, April 18, 2012

DoD Proposes Expanding Sabbatical Leave for Reservists

As reported in the Martine Corps Times yesterday, Pentagon officials have submitted a proposal to Congress to extend military sabbatical leave to Reservists and Guardsmen on full-time active duty. Through the Navy’s Career Intermission Pilot Program, or CIPP, service members can take a penalty-free break of one to three years in a military career for personal or professional reasons. During the break, service members receive a small monthly stipend (1/15th of their monthly basic pay) and are covered by the military’s health care system. When service members return to active service, they are restored to their same pay grade as if there had been no gap in service. They also retain eligibility for promotion and assignments. However, sabbatical entitlement is offset by two additional months on active duty for every month they were on leave. In addition, no more than forty officers and forty enlisted members may be given new sabbatical opportunities each year.

While initially, the proposed extension stands to leave a minimal footprint, the potential benefits for Guardsmen and Reservists should not be overlooked. As tough economic conditions persist, Reserve unemployment numbers yield a rate consistently one and a half times higher than the national average. Even more disturbing, trends of hiring discrimination against Reservists have been reported as employers are reluctant to take on a hire representing a guaranteed absence 1 out of every 5 years. In some cases, Reservists have even been advised to omit their Reserve and Guard status on their resumes. As recently reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s article Reservist status can be liability for job seekers, a veteran representative from Pennsylvania Career Links, a state-sponsored work force initiative, was quoted as citing direct guidance to avoid mention of Reserve service during the application process.  "I don't recommend they put [their Guard and Reserve status] on their resumes anymore…I advise my Reservists to put only the date of discharge on their resume, and when they do, their hiring outcomes improve."

Expansion of the sabbatical program represents a potential source of relief for reservists struggling with improving their outlook for civilian employment. Reservists could use this time to receive a higher education degree, again without the threat of being called for duty. Finally, defense officials argued that the sabbatical leave would give “greater flexibility to test and evaluate alternative career retention options in specialties and skills in which monetary incentives alone have not produced required long-term retention results.” It is conceivable that use and possible expansion of the sabbatical program would ultimately make for a stronger Reserve Component with greater retention and expanded skill sets maintained at lower cost.

The Department of Defense’s proposal does not change the December 31, 2015 termination date for the program, and it does not change the rule for a limited number of officers and enlisted personnel to receive new sabbatical opportunities each year.

What do you think about the sabbatical for Reservists and Guardsmen on full-time active duty?

1 comment:

MAJ K Numerick said...

The Army should consider including sabbatical leave as part of its Continuum of Service (COS) concept to support seamless transition between its components – active component (AC), AGR, drilling reservists (TPU), and inactive ready reserve (IRR). In COS, the Army retains trained, experienced personnel and Soldiers align their Army service commitment to personal and professional priorities.
Right now, most efforts focus on AC Soldiers becoming drilling reservists. Less public discussion has occurred about reserve component Soldiers moving into the active service – whether AGR or AC.

AGR Soldiers can access the Army's civilian schooling (ACS) opportunities, but with drawdown, these openings may dwindle. Sabbatical leave expands or retains these options, and offers alternatives to the defined ACS program routes. Some might even pursue practica leading to civilian certifications, such as those in engineering or logistics.

One concern is whether participants are included in the AGR force pool. The Army's full time support strength is the smallest proportion of end strength across services. While 120 participants seems minimal -- combined with other institutional trainees, wounded warriors, and operational tempo -- administration must be feasible considering the return for both Soldiers and Service. A possibility is to provide time-limited AGR tours to TPU and IRR Soldiers, enhancing the COS program’s RC to active service option.
While not specific to the AGR population, the sabbatical leave concept could be a model for addressing the larger problem of maintaining readiness, reducing the force, and caring for our wounded warriors. The Army faces a 50k personnel reduction (or more in the event of sequestration). When one includes the 9,000 Soldiers assigned to the Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2), the Army’s deployable force is reduced an additional 2% (with or without sequestration). The AW2 cares for the most severely wounded, injured, and ill Soldiers – those expected to receive a ≥30% disability rating.

The NDAA authorizes sabbatical leave for personal, as well as professional reasons. If applicants are not included in force limitations, AW2 participants could participate in a form of this program while conducting their recovery, medical review, and completing their comprehensive transition plan (CTP), whether returning to active service, retraining for a new MOS and return to active service, or preparing for post-Army life.

An important caveat: the sabbatical program could be a model only – not a copy. These Soldiers would require their full pay and benefits. Additionally, given individual recovery and transition needs, and automatic participation, service obligations or participation time limits are inappropriate.

This proposal requires no other modifications to the existing Warrior Transition Program and AW2 programs. The idea is to retain these organizations’ existing quality and standards and maintain wounded Soldiers’ focus on their recovery while preserving the maximum deployable Army ground force. When officials talk about regenerating combat power in the event of a new threat – retaining 9,000 deployable Soldiers is nearly three brigades less that the Army has to “create.” As wounded Soldiers complete their CTP, natural attrition will have made space for those returning to active service.