In 2015, as many as 40 airmen will be the first to test a new program allowing them to put their careers on hold for up to three years while they start families, go back to school or pursue other life goals.
And by the end of the year, the next slate of 40 airmen will be chosen to begin sabbaticals in 2016.
The Air Force turned heads in early 2014 when it announced plans to test a Career Intermission Pilot Program — similar to one offered by the Navy — which would allow 20 officers and 20 enlisted airmen annually to temporarily leave the service for personal or professional reasons, for up to three years. Those airmen would enter the Individual Ready Reserve during their time off, and when they return, their year groups would be reset to ensure their careers don't suffer while they're away.
The application period for the initial CIPP class closed in October, and the Air Force is expected to announce the results this month.
In a Dec. 2 interview, Brig. Gen. Brian Kelly, the Air Force's director of military force management policy, said that the Air Force and Defense Department hope to begin expanding the program over the next few years — not just for the Air Force, but other services as well.
While the Air Force's program is now limited to 40 airmen each year, Defense is asking Congress for permission to offer sabbaticals to more, Kelly said.
"I think we'll all be watching to see how well it goes, and making sure the first people through as our test case, that it's accomplishing what we want to accomplish," Kelly said. "Which is to allow our high-performing airmen an avenue to remain in the Air Force, if they have some other thing in their life. If they're getting out to start a family, if they want to go and pursue advanced education, maybe they're taking care of aging parents. But that CIPP thing will be big."
Kelly said that the Air Force plans to begin discussing the next round of sabbaticals this spring and will begin accepting applications in the summer. The next board will be held in fall to decide which airmen will enter the program. Kelly said that rough schedule will continue in subsequent years.