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Coast Guard's Sabbatical Program a Hit With Officers, Enlisted Members

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 30, 2003 – A 2002 General Accounting Office report states that the Defense Department has lost female personnel and will lose them increasingly unless it improves new-parent benefits.

The report, GAO-02-935, "Active Duty Benefits Reflect Changing Demographics, but Opportunities Exist to Improve," is dated September 2002. It makes specific mention of the Coast Guard's "Care for Newborn Children" program as a possible prototype for DoD.

The program allows parents to leave the service for up to two years without pay and benefits to care for a newborn child, said Cmdr. Catherine Haines, a policy adviser in the Coast Guard Office of Leadership and Diversity in Washington.

After the sabbatical, parents are eligible to return to active duty at the same grade they held when they left. Many of the Coast Guardsmen who've participated have returned to active duty, she said.

Haines talked about the sabbatical program during the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services meeting in Arlington, Va., in mid-January. Founded in 1951, DACOWITS is comprised of 13 civilians from throughout the country who make recommendations to the secretary of defense about improving the quality of life and opportunities for women in uniform.

In May 2000, Coast Guardsmen were given another quality of life and morale booster with the establishment of the Temporary Separation program, which was modeled after the newborn program. Service members can request up to a two- year sabbatical for more than caring for a newborn child.

"Both programs are open to male and female active duty personnel," Haines pointed out. "Service members can use the Temporary Separation program for such things as furthering their education or caring for elderly or sick parents. Or, it can give members who are unsure of committing to a Coast Guard career a chance to pursue opportunities outside the service."

This unique sabbatical program among the services was started after a 1998 study aimed at retaining people with experience and expertise in critical specialties.

Haines said the newborn program helps service members alleviate excessive personal family hardships associated with parental responsibilities for a newborn or a legally adopted child. Officers and enlisted members are eligible for the one-time separation offer.

Coast Guard officials determined the program would help retain valuable experienced, trained service members who might otherwise be lost, along with building a stronger sense of job satisfaction, she said.

"The Care for Newborn Children program is a good opportunity to balance the need to take care of a child and also have a military career," Haines noted. "It also balances personal commitments and improves quality of life for service members."

The prerequisites differ for enlisted members and officers. Only career officers who have served on active duty for five years without a break in service may apply. Enlisted personnel must be in grade E-4 or above and have more than four years of active duty service for the Care for Newborn Children program; they must have six or more years to be eligible for the Temporary Separation program.

Personnel with obligated service are ineligible -- for example, a pilot who owes service time for recently completed flight training.

Haines emphasized both programs guarantee that those who meet medical and physical requirements can return to active duty in the same grade.

"It's like they held a place for you," she said.

But can be a chancy undertaking for service members with 12 or more years service. "That's because if something goes wrong medically or physically during the sabbatical, they may not be accepted back on active duty," Haines pointed out.

She said the Temporary Separation program works well when both parents are on active duty because either can take a sabbatical and the family still has military benefits -- medical and dental care, housing allowance, exchange and commissary privileges, and more.

"I've known a couple where the woman is active duty and the husband was a civilian and they adopted a child," Haines said. "She took two years off, but her husband had a well- paying job.

No other service has a sabbatical program, she noted.

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