Morale: Sabbaticals For Sought After Specialists


April 17,2008: The Department of Defense, in an effort to retain its most valuable (and expensive to replace) troops, is always asking the ones who leave anyway, what additional benefit might have kept them in. A common suggestion has been, "sabbatical" (an extended leave, usually for a year, and most commonly granted to academics and clergy). The sabbatical has become common in other professions, as a popular fringe benefit.

The Department of Defense version would transfer the troops to the IRR (Individual Ready Reserve), reduce their pay by about 93 percent, but maintain most fringe benefits (especially health care). Once on sabbatical, military personnel would be free to do whatever they wanted (for one to three years). They have to show up once a year (if the sabbatical is more than a year) to take physical (including a drug test) and make sure their personnel records are up-to-date.

Who is eligible for sabbatical, and for how long, has not been worked out yet. For the moment, only the U.S. Navy is offering these sabbaticals, and on an experimental basis. For each of the next three years, 40 sailors (half of them officers), will be able to take a one year sabbatical. When they return from sabbatical, they still have their old rank, but the sabbatical time does not count when calculating time in the service (for retirement) or time-in-grade (or rank, for promotion purposes). The main purpose of sabbatical is to encourage valuable people to stay. To that end, for every month of sabbatical, you are required to remain at least two more months in uniform (beyond what your current service obligation is.)

The other services will be watching this experiment with great interest, as will many of those who might be tempted to make a career (20-30 years) of the service if they could have a sabbatical.


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