The Pentagon is exploring ways to allow service members greater flexibility in taking “pauses” in their military careers before returning to active-duty.

According to Defense Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness Matthew Donovan, the concept should allow service members to resume their military service after taking a break, and provide them more options as they navigate new stages of life.

“We need to allow that to occur without any penalty for doing that,” Donovan said during an Air Force Association Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies virtual event on Tuesday. “And I’m not saying that you would collect the same seniority and get promoted while you’re off on that, but you ought to be able to come in at the same place you left.”

Donovan said that there could be flexibility in when a service member takes the pause — either earlier on in their career as he or she starts a family, or later down the line to take care of elderly family members.

“It may be when you’re younger and you want to start a family, and that applies to males or females...But then also on the later years as lieutenant colonels and colonels who now have parents that may be aging that they need to take care of and you know, take a little bit of time off,” Donovan said.

Donovan knows first hand that the change is something service members would be interested in. He said his own wife wanted to return to active duty after their children got older. But in order to implement this change, Congress would need to step in, he said.

“I can talk about that from personal experience with my wife who got out of the active duty to raise some kids, and then wanted to keep her hand in it, and to go back into active duty once they reach high school age,” Donovan said. “Well, it takes a literal act of Congress to do that. So one of the things that we’re working with the Congress is to apply more permeability, the ability to move between the different components at different times in your life.”

The services took a first step in allowing service members to take a pause from their military careers, after Congress authorized the Career Intermission Pilot Program in 2009. The pilot program expired in 2009, and Congress included a provision in the Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act to make it permanent. However, the current Career Intermission Program only accommodates up to a three-year break.

Spokespeople for Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Military Times.

Donovan’s comments come after Smith and House Armed Services Committee ranking member Rep. Mac Thornberry pledged Congress would pass the NDAA this year, despite difficulties stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This milestone has been made possible by decades of bipartisanship, regular order, and transparency,” Smith and Thornberry said in a statement Tuesday.

“We remain committed to the principles that have guided the bill in the past — regular order through the committee, transparency, and bipartisanship,” they said.

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