Army Wants Soldiers to Get Out to Train

A very strange approach to talent management.

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from PxHere

The headline “Sergeant Major of the Army Wants Soldiers to Consider Getting Out of Uniform for 3 Years” captured my attention but doesn’t quite convey the right message.

The Army’s top enlisted leader wants soldiers to consider taking a break.

The Career Intermission Program allows officers, warrant officers and noncommissioned officers on active duty or in a full-time role in the reserve components to take up to a three-year break from the military. The catch is that, for every one month a soldier is gone, they owe the Army two months.

But Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston says it’s a good way for troops to earn a degree, take care of family issues, or acquire a professional skill.

As an Army, we must stay flexible as we fight to retain the talent we have cultivated in our soldiers,” Grinston said in an Army-wide email Thursday that was reviewed by

The program started as a trial in 2014 and allowed only a limited number of soldiers to participate. It became permanent in May without a clear limit on how many troops can use it.

Program participants retain their health care and on-base privileges, but would need a new source of income. According to a May memo to the force, soldiers taking a break will earn only two days’ worth of pay a month. All special incentive pay is revoked. And participants do not accrue GI Bill benefits while in the program.

Yet Grinston prefers soldiers to consider the program as an alternative to outright leaving the Army.

“I do not want to lose the focus on troops reenlisting at their eligible gates,” he said in the email. “However, temporary circumstances have been known to divert Soldiers into permanent separation. It is our job to make sure Soldiers are at least aware of this opportunity before they permanently get out.”

So, sure, if a soldier the Army wants to retain takes a break in service rather than leaving altogether, it’s a win. But I’m perplexed on the “temporary circumstances” issue.

If the Army wants soldiers to “earn a degree” or “acquire a professional skill,” why wouldn’t it invest in those outcomes—with a payback requirement, of course—rather than letting them go earn them on their own dime and hoping they’ll come back?

For that matter, couldn’t it do them same in order to allow them to “take care of family issues”? Obviously, if someone needs to leave for two or three years to, say, take full-time care of a dying parent, the Army can’t reasonably keep them on the payroll. But, surely, we could have a block leave program that would allow them to take care of something that will divert them for a shorter duration? We already, belatedly, have rather generous maternity and paternity leave programs. Couldn’t they be expanded for broader family matters? Again, there would have to be reasonable restrictions and payback requirements to prevent abuse. But, if talent retention is the goal, there ought to be ways to accomplish that without forcing people to leave the service, find another job, and hope they come back when things are resolved.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Military Affairs,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. steve says:

    Sounds like a leave of absence and has some merit. I am guessing that would mostly be useful for family issues. The military already has options to send people off to get degrees, though only ones the military finds useful. I guess you could give someone a LOA so they could get a degree in pottery making but it seems awfully unlikely that the person who wants to do that would want to return.


  2. Jon says:

    Obviously, if someone needs to leave for two or three years to, say, take full-time care of a dying parent, the Army can’t reasonably keep them on the payroll.

    Sure they can. Or facilitate the extended family getting access to the same care the soldier has, or subsidize nursing, or all kinds of things. What better way to retain people than to show that you care about them and their families in time of need? If we as a country are asking someone to potentially put their life on the line, the least we can do is make sure they know their loved ones will be cared for.

  3. Barry says:

    My guess is money. The Army brass figures that it’ll save money somehow.

  4. dazedandconfused says:


    Yes, but that person would have to be considered undeployable.

    They aren’t talking about E1-4s, they are talking about the core, the lifer SNCOs and chiefs. I can’t see anything perplexing about the allowing of careerist SNCOs, chiefs, and the like take an extended break if they request it…after 6-8 years in…which they will have all accrued. Multiple deployments to bad places have been a thing of late.

  5. HarvardLaw92 says:

    It’s an odd duck, to be sure. In the back of my mind, I’ll admit that the first thought that sprung up was “perhaps this is aimed at soldiers the Army wishes to retain who are risk of becoming / are becoming disenchanted”.

    I. e. “”Go take a stroll through the civilian side (conveniently without pay) and see if you still think the grass is greener”. They potentially come back with a renewed appreciation for the Army? Out of the box perspective on my part, to be sure, but it is what first sprang to mind as a rationale.

  6. Jon says:


    Yes, but that person would have to be considered undeployable.

    Only if that soldier actually is given time off. If, rather, the Army steps in and provides the care themselves then it is a non-issue. And really, I’m not sure I see the problem with having somebody be un-deployable for a while. It’s highly unlikely it would happen enough to actually deplete forces in any meaningful way, and if so there are solutions.

  7. Jen says:

    Is this a result of all of the subsequent rounds of deployment? I get the strong sense that the army wants soldiers to be mentally in the right place, and that stress (especially deployments away from family) can be a real burden. So, what they do is set up what amounts to a sabbatical program so they don’t lose these soldiers permanently after investing so much in their training.

  8. James Joyner says:

    @HarvardLaw92: That actually makes a lot more sense than the stated rationale.

  9. dazedandconfused says:

    That the Army is demanding a commitment for twice time-off speaks to motivation and the sort of soldier for whom this is intended. Mostly, if not all but exclusively, only those who intend to stay for at least the 20 would find that an attractive trade.

    Sometimes some people only need a break, but they really, really need it.

  10. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Jen: The days of endless deployments stopped about 5-6 years ago. Most of those that put in 3,4,5 deployments in Iraq & Syria have retired or separated.

    Its not uncommon to meet 10-year troops today that have never deployed. We have rural school districts with more children than we have troops deployed so deployment tempo is not a factor. The main factor is congressional military end strengths and the Services thinking creatively to keep some sort of affiliation with trained people they can bring back in in case of a contingency or if Congress raises end-strength numbers.

  11. Bnut says:

    @HarvardLaw92: I could say this might we work now that deployments to A-stan and Iraq aren’t stacked up like cord wood and we are transitioning back to a “peacetime” military. If me and my guys had been given a couple years off back in the 2000’s, I don’t know a single one of us would have been happy to hop back into those high op-tempo days. But I could see this being attractive to a garrisoned force.

  12. Bnut says:

    They should just let people sign 20 year contracts with 3 years of block leave built in whenever you want after you make staff or 0-4.