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—Wilson Brissett

Sixty-one airmen participated in the Career Intermission Pilot Program (CIPP) in 2015 and 2016, at a total cost of $1.2 million, a new Government Accountability Office report found.

While the Navy has been making use of the program since 2009 and the Army and Marines since 2014, 2015 was the first year airmen participated in CIPP, which allows service members to take a sabbatical of one to three years to pursue personal or professional goals  in exchange for two months of service obligation for each month of sabbatical taken.

The program is intended to increase retention. During their sabbatical, service members receive two days of their regular pay per month and retain full medical benefits for themselves and their families. Medical benefits made up over half the cost of the program for the Air Force in 2015 and 2016, according to GAO.

The program is designed to allow service members to return to their career field with no negative impact on their career progression. The Air Force told the GAO “it is too early in their implementation of the program to assess career progression” because no returning members have yet come up for promotion.

Thirty-five of the 61 CIPP airmen were women serving in a number of career fields. The majority came from operations (20) and medical (15).

According to the report, no pilots have participated in CIPP so far, but the Air Force has said the career intermission program could help address its dire pilot shortage—allowing pilots to join an​ airline and start earning seniority before returning to Active Duty.

Air Force spokeswoman Erika Yepsen said in an email the service is “looking at all options” for how to “share pilots between military and commercial,” but that it is too early in the process to discuss program specifics.