AFPC’s best-kept secret…

By “Captian Dave”, TPN Correspondent

Psst… I have a secret to share for mil pilots in all branches:

(The airlines are hiring. Like, right now. It’s going on in earnest and is going to peak in the next few years.)

Oh, you heard? And your Palace Chase application was denied, you’re stuck in a commitment for a few more years, or you’re just around the corner from retirement.  Bummer! It’s okay though, you’ll get here eventually… what’s a few thousand line numbers between friends? You don’t mind getting the gear handle for the next 20 years, right?

Ok, I jest, but I understand the realities many of us close to the end face. We’re competitive now, there are jobs now, there are many retirements looming on the near horizon, and every year it takes to make the transition is going to cost you 500-1000 line numbers of seniority you’ll likely never get back.  The worst part is, you know you’re stuck – either under that ADSC or the draw of that warm security blanket the military pension provides. 

Or are you?

What if there were a way to get out now, hack that line number at your favorite airline (or whatever airline will hire you), possibly even fly with them long enough to get off probation and then come back to the military to complete your commitment under USERRA protections (aka mil leave)?

[Sidebar: Doubt USERRA applies? Title 20, Chapter 9 part 1002.5 (l) states, “Service in the uniformed services means the performance of duty on a voluntary or involuntary basis in a uniformed service under competent authority. Service in the uniformed services includes active duty, [etc.]…” Part 1002.6 states, “USERRA’s definition of “service in the uniformed services” covers all categories of military training and service, including duty performed on a voluntary or involuntary basis, in time of peace or war. Although most often understood as applying to National Guard and reserve military personnel, USERRA also applies to persons serving in the active components of the Armed Forces.” 

Read up on the FAQ here:  https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=2d3e8aefaa1286cabc1f2b43d020d5bd&node=20:4.0.5.3.3&rgn=div5]

Well, there is, and it’s been around for years now. It’s known as the Career Intermission Program, aka CIP, and probably has the worst publicist in the DoD.

When I first heard about the program in 2014, it was being touted by my leadership as a program to allow Air Force women time off to start or grow their families. While this is a legit reason for CIP approval, the program can technically be used to pursue any personal or professional goals. That means if you want to spend a year playing stay-at-home dad, or get that degree from Harvard, or hack a line number with the airlines, you may be a potential CIP candidate. 

So why haven’t you heard about this? The truth, it seems, is that AFPC and personnel centers in other branches have not done a very good job communicating with the chain of command about these opportunities. I just recently discovered the existence of CIP accidentally, out of desperation. I’m at 18.5 years of active duty service and approaching the end of my UPT commitment. I’d read all of Emet’s articles [https://community.thepilotnetwork.org/posts/ideal-military-pilot-career-path-spelling-it-out-part-1], and I knew what it would cost to stay the extra 1.5 years to retire, but I’m not even 40 yet and I just couldn’t walk away from twenty years of retirement checks or the comfort of knowing I’d at least always be able to pay my mortgage. I even created a PowerPoint presentation for myself with my options – separate, stay in, join the Reserves as a TR/Cat E/IMA, etc.

While discussing my options with my wife, I recalled a friend of mine from years back that took a hiatus to grow his crashpad business, www.militarycrashpad.com. I offhandedly suggested that maybe I could do something similar and promised to look into it. The next day I Googled “Air Force Hiatus” and [url= https://www.afpc.af.mil/Career-Management/CIP/ ]this article[/url] came up with instructions to search for “intermission” on MyPers for more info.  

Jackpot! Here was my chance to get out now, get hired, and guarantee the Title 10 days I’d need to retire without worrying about sanctuary rules, rushing units or trying to volunteer for 1.5 years’ worth of deployments. 

More research uncovered a whole host of benefits. Not only do program participants keep medical and dental coverage during their intermission, but they also receive a monthly stipend of 1/15th base pay. As a member of the IRR while on intermission, I wouldn’t have to do any PT tests. I can roll my leave balance over and save it for retirement terminal when I return to active duty. The military pays to move you to a Home of Selection (HoS) and pays to move you to your next duty station when you get orders back to active duty. Members are ineligible for tuition assistance but can pull their GI Bill and even receive the BAH entitlement since their CIP stipend doesn’t include BAH!

So what’s the catch?

Of course, like most good things in the military, this program does have a downside and it could be a deal breaker. CIP is a retention tool, and as such, it comes with an extra commitment – for every month you spend on hiatus, you owe an additional two months, and the minimum program length is one year. Worse yet, that extra commitment of at least two years runs consecutively, not concurrently, so it will get added on at the end of whatever commitment you may be currently serving. For near-retiree free agents, this isn’t a big deal – you lock in to get you over the 20 year hump any time within your last five years, and your airline’s continued 401b contributions are like your own personal pilot bonus.

But for guys coming up on their UPT ADSC this could be a significant reason to evaluate life priorities and career risks like that short tour 365 you’ve successfully avoided so far, or the time that would get added on to your existing PCS ADSC or GI benefits transfer commitment.

For separating pilots, this means you would have to be within 3 years of getting out to be able to use this program to establish a line number with the airlines. USERRA only provides up to five years of mil leave protections and program participation will add at least two years to any commitments you might currently have. But that also means you can separate now, before airline hiring peaks in the early 2020s, and then come back to the airlines as a three, four, five or even six year First Officer.  

[side bar: What kind of ADSCs does CIP enrollment get added to?

Verbatim excerpt from the CIP IRR agreement: 

“I understand and agree to serve on active duty for a period of two months for every one month of program participation following completion of participation in CIP. The CIP active duty service commitment (ADSC) / reserve service commitment (RSC) will be served consecutively, in addition to any ADSC / RSC revived upon return to active duty.”, For example, the program participant guide says, “if you have an 18 month PCS, tuition assistance, etc. ADSC remaining at the time of your separation for CIP, the clock for your CIP ADSC will not start until 18 months have passed and that ADSC is complete.” The PCS ADSC for your return to active duty from your intermission program runs concurrently, however, and any “concurrent” ADSCs you incur after starting your CIP time won’t push your CIP ADSC back.]

A few months before it’s time to come back, you’ll submit a dream sheet of 6-8 base assignment preferences in your original career field (if it still exists). You’ll have to get a medical clearance or PHA before getting orders, and the CIP program office has to work to get you added back to the congressional scroll. 

And that’s it; you get orders, schedule your HHG move and finish out your new commitments, all while watching your seniority (and probably your company 401K) grow. According to my contacts at AFPC, 100% of officers that have applied for an intermission over the past three years have been approved, but don’t wait too long to apply; per the Air Force CIP office, “Airmen who meet basic eligibility criteria and who apply for transition to the IRR under this program are not guaranteed approval. Air Force manning and mission requirements will be considered when evaluating applications for approval or disapproval.” As word gets out about this program and applications spike, they’re bound to reign in approvals eventually, especially after stop loss gets implemented.