Need to take care of your parents? Want to go to law school? Interested in starting a family? The Army is providing a new path for soldiers to take a break from active duty to “take care of life,” as one brochure puts it.

The Army’s now-permanent Career Intermission Program allows eligible active duty soldiers and AGR Army Reserve troops to request as long as three years of time away from full-time service.

Acting Army Secretary John Whitley signed a directive May 6 formally establishing the program.

“The long-term intent of the CIP is to retain the valuable investment in experience and training the Army would otherwise lose when Soldiers separate permanently,” said Whitley in the directive.

Preliminary versions of the program have been around since Congress initially authorized it as a retention tool in 2009. The Navy was the first service to implement it as a retention tool, and the Army began experimenting with the concept in 2014.

Under the permanent version of the program, participating soldiers transfer from the Regular Army or Army Reserve to the Inactive Ready Reserve and essentially “pause” their service, seniority and retirement eligibility clocks for the duration of their break.

While on hiatus, troops will receive two days’ worth of their paycheck per month, in addition to continued active duty medical and dental benefits for them and their families.

Soldiers do not accrue Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits while in the IRR, but they can use benefits they previously earned, making the program a potentially attractive prospect for troops hoping to start or finish a college degree. The Army’s tuition assistance program is not available for program participants, though.

There is a catch.

In return, soldiers will owe the Army two months of additional active-duty service for each month they are in the IRR — to be served consecutively with any other existing service obligations.

Any special pays or bonuses will be put on hold until participating soldiers come back onto active duty. Participants won’t be eligible for promotion during their time in the IRR, either.

Most NCOs, warrant officers and officers are eligible for the program if they do not have an existing education-related service obligation. But notable exceptions include officers serving in joint-designated positions, soldiers with more than 17 years of service, troops with negative disciplinary records and soldiers with PCS or deployment orders in hand.

But as always, the program comes with some fine print, according to the directive.

“Participation in the program may be terminated at any time based on the needs of the Army and may result in immediate recall to active duty in the RA or USAR AGR,” the directive reads.

Davis Winkie covers the Army for Military Times. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill, and served five years in the Army Guard. His investigations earned the Society of Professional Journalists' 2023 Sunshine Award and consecutive Military Reporters and Editors honors, among others. Davis was also a 2022 Livingston Awards finalist.

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