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A Sailor’s Experience with Career Intermission Program

By Lt. Michael FonbuenaLt. Michael Fonbuena

The Career Intermission Program, which originally began as a small-scale pilot, has afforded me the opportunity to seek out an advanced degree at a prestigious university of my choosing while also allowing me the ability to continue my career in the naval service. Overall, I have had an extremely positive experience with CIP and feel that the Navy should strongly advertise this program to junior officers as an alternative means of obtaining graduate education.

As I was midway through my shore tour, I found myself debating a question which many junior officers often find themselves debating: Should I stay in or should I get out? There are many factors which weigh in to such a decision: financial, professional, family, etc. For me, however, the most important factor was the ability to obtain a quality graduate education that aligned with both my academic and professional interests. After researching the options available to me through the Navy, I became extremely discouraged by the lack of diversity in educational opportunities. (To be fair, I was not ready to sign JCSRB at the end of my second sea tour which limited my opportunities, but I feel that can be said of many junior officers who need to experience a shore tour before they are ready to make such a critical decision.)

The only option which truly aligned with my interests was the Pol-Mil Master’s Program.  However, the timing was not likely to work as it would put me at department head school past the seven and a half year mark; also there is only one applicant accepted to a two-year Master’s program each year. One applicant – this is a huge disservice to the Naval Officer Corps. Needless to say, I was discouraged at the opportunities available to me. Then, I discovered CIP after many hours of online searching, and it immediately peaked my interest. The main draw was the ability to continue my career as a department head while also being afforded the opportunity to obtain a Master’s degree of my choosing at an institution of my choosing.

Overall, I have had an extremely positive experience while participating in this program. I have been able to see what life outside of the military is like, I have been re-invigorated by the educational opportunities which have been presented to me, and I feel I have gained many valuable skills which are not traditionally gained in Navy graduate programs and will serve both myself and the Navy well in the long run.  Below are some thoughts on CIP:

Positives:

  • Ability to obtain the degree I desired at a university of my choosing
  • Obtained diverse skills which will be valuable to myself and the Navy in the long run
  • Allowed to use Post 9/11 GI Bill and retained medical/dental benefits
  • Eliminates timing issues regarding career progression

Negatives:

  • Stipend not substantial enough to make sufficient impact in day-to-day life
  • Program not well known to service members
  • Unable to collect YCS 6 JCSRB payment due to program restrictions

Suggestions:

  • Heavily advertise CIP to junior officers, particularly as an alternative vehicle to obtain graduate education
  • Increase the monthly stipend to approximately 1/5 of base pay to create a larger incentive for participation in CIP
  • Develop partnerships with academic institutions to help junior officers get accepted to top-tier Master’s programs while participating in CIP
  • Remove the restriction that do not allow participants to receive CSRB; at minimum, make it so junior officers could retroactively receive any payments they otherwise would be ineligible for because of the existing clause making it ineligible for individuals to participate in CIP while under CSRB. This might make sense in some context, but not for junior officers, who should be primary target group of CIP
  • Work to place members in a position applicable to the Master’s Degree they obtain during CIP – for example, if someone goes to Wharton to obtain their M.B.A., place them in a financial position at the Pentagon immediately upon return to active duty; if a person goes to Harvard Kennedy School to obtain their M.P.P., place them in an OLA or Pol-Mil billet. This will not only leverage the ideas obtained during their studies but also advance the service member professionally and validate them academically.

This has been an extremely valuable program, and I feel that it should be largely expanded from its current scope. It provides the Navy the opportunity to tap into a segment of junior officers who would be extremely valuable to the Navy long-term but might otherwise separate due to a lack of educational opportunities.  I would further recommend the Navy conduct an extensive survey in order to discover what percentage of junior officers across all levels would be encouraged to stay if given the chance to participate in CIP and what would encourage their participation.


 

Editor’s note: Lt. Michael Fonbuena graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy with a degree in history in 2007. At sea, he served as Electro/Auxo in USS Lake Champlain (CG 57) and DCA in USS Benfold (DDG 65), ashore he served as a gas turbine assessor for Engineering Assessments Pacific in San Diego, Calif. He is currently a Master’s of Public Policy candidate at the University of California, Los Angeles and was awarded the Torang Jahan Fellowship for Globalization Studies.

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