WASHINGTON (Army News Service, July 13, 2015) – Staff Sgt. Jessica Cotton had a tough choice to make. Should she reenlist in the Army or hang up her uniform and go be a lawyer?
But the drill sergeant on Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, who has been in the Army for eight years, didn’t have to choose between the Army or law school. She chose both with help from the Career Intermission Pilot Program.
The program allows up to 20 enlisted Soldiers and 20 officers each year to take a break from service for up to three years, said Albert S. Eggerton, with the Career Intermission Pilot Program, G-1. During that time, they will be in the Individual Ready Reserve, or IRR.
The program is designed for “our best people who have a future in the Army and have future career success on the horizon but are facing challenges in their own personal life or in their professional development lives that the Army can’t meet,” Eggerton said.
The program allows the Army to retain service members who otherwise might have left, he said. The program is selective, Eggerton said, noting the Army is looking for enlisted members and officers who have the greatest need for this benefit.
Service members return after their break with the same rank and same time in service when they left. They are paid 1/15 of their base pay during their time away. For every month off, a Soldier owes the Army two months of active duty service.
No promises are made about where a Soldier will be assigned upon return. While the Army will do its best to accommodate Soldiers, return assignments ultimately depend upon the needs of the Army, Eggerton said.
The Army started the program in 2014. The first selectees are just now beginning their sabbatical period. The application process is rolling, Eggerton said.
Soldiers who are interested in applying can go to the Human Resources Command, or HRC, website for more information, or contact their career representatives at HRC, he said.
“I was dead set on going to law school,” said Cotton, a student at Thomas Goode Jones School of Law at Faulkner University in Alabama.
Cotton, who wants to concentrate on criminal law, is happy to have been selected for the sabbatical program. Her goal is to join the JAG Corps when she returns after her three year break.
Her advice to Soldiers who are considering taking time off: “Save, save, save … and save some more.”
For Soldiers wanting to pursue higher education, Cotton recommends they consider a military-friendly school that has a Veterans Affairs representative.
“Because this is a new program, because it is a pilot program, you need somebody who is familiar with your benefits and things like that to be able to navigate this program and what you are entitled to,” she said.
MILITARY FAMILY COMMITMENTS
Balancing commitments in a dual-military family was a challenge for Staff Sgt. Mylinda DuRousseau, a public affairs noncommissioned officer on Fort Wainwright, Alaska, who has been in the Army for 11 years. She is the mother of two teenagers and a toddler.
“We definitely were having some issues with our ops tempo,” she said.
DuRousseau and her husband, a first sergeant, had to fly family to Alaska for four months to care for their youngest child, as they juggled their commitments with the Army.
“My husband is eligible for retirement in three years, so our plan is for him to retire and stay home with her as I come back in,” she said.
DuRousseau opted to take three years off to tend to her family, and provide support to her husband as he takes care of his company.
“I just feel that that was becoming a challenge. I felt like I wasn’t able to do all positions – mother, spouse, and Soldier equally well,” she said.
DuRousseau will also be finishing her bachelor’s degree in hospitality management. She would like to come back into public affairs in the Army, and be an event coordinator after she retires from the service.
“It has been wonderful,” DuRousseau said about the break.
“It’s been something that gives me a chance to complete my goals and it’s been a really emotional and mentally very stabilizing and wonderful thing for us all,” she said.