On Aug. 29, Navy judge advocate Lt. Cmdr. Ben Adams reported to Defense Service Office West (Detachment Bremerton) after a one-year career intermission to complete a clerkship at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Adams is one of several judge advocates who have taken advantage of the Navy’s Career Intermission Program (CIP), which allows service members – for various personal and professional reasons – to transfer from active duty the Individual Ready Reserve for up to three years.
Adams, who hails from Columbus, Ohio, clerked for Judge Thomas Griffith in Washington, D.C., from August 2018 to August 2019. During his tenure, the court decided cases dealing with many high-stakes issues – exposing Adams to some of the best legal writing and advocacy in the country – and he acquired knowledge and skills that will enhance his career and benefit the wider Judge Advocate General (JAG) community.
“When I was offered the opportunity to clerk, it seemed like everybody agreed it was a good idea, but it was not clear how to make it work within the confines of the Navy or the JAG community,” said Adams. “CIP is valuable because of the flexibility it provides – once you are off active duty, you get time to do whatever it is that makes the most sense personally or professionally, hopefully without missing a beat.”
While enrolled in CIP, service members retain full health care coverage and base privileges. The rules, eligibility, and application procedures for the program are outlined in OPNAVINST 1330.2C. Adams recommends frequent communication with the CIP manager and one’s prospective command – as well as colleagues and mentors – to stay connected to the Navy, and to ensure re-entry into the active component is smooth.
Adams’s fellow judge advocate, Cmdr. Abby Surbella currently is enrolled in CIP for personal reasons, and she is enjoying spending more time with her family. Surbella, who hails from Buffalo, N.Y., most recently served as the Fleet Environmental Counsel at U.S. Pacific Fleet.
“I have been in the Navy for 16 years and have been afforded a lot of opportunities, but due in major part to my Naval career, I started my family later in life,” said Surbella. “My son is a toddler now and this was the last chance I had to spend more time with him before he started formal school.”
“The gift of time is so incredibly valuable to me, and I am so grateful that I am able to take advantage of this program while my son is still young,” she added.
Surbella acknowledged that CIP can sometimes be challenging to navigate, as it is not widely used and some administrative processes require more time and effort than previously anticipated. She echoes Adams’s recommendation to speak frequently with the CIP manager, as well as other program enrollees, and she urges future enrollees to plan well in advance of their intermissions and to remain organized throughout the experience.
“It is a program that everyone in the Navy should learn about, as it may help the Navy keep dedicated Sailors in the service, while affording them the opportunity to take care of something they feel is necessary at this point in their lives,” Surbella said. “I think it is extremely valuable for the JAG Corps because we sometimes lose outstanding officers early in their careers because they want to have a family or pursue a professional opportunity – this allows them to pursue those desires, but come back and continue to serve.”
Lt. Kate Clark-Dawe – a judge advocate currently stationed at Region Legal Service Office Europe, Africa, Southwest Asia (Branch Office Bahrain) – took advantage of CIP beginning in 2012, when it was still a pilot program. She had been serving as a Legalman, and she enrolled in CIP in order to attend Roger Williams School of Law in Bristol, R.I. Once she received her Juris Doctor degree and passed the bar exam, she was commissioned in the JAG Corps.
“While I was stationed at then-Navy Legal Service Office Northwest, I decided I wanted to become a judge advocate,” said Clark-Dawe. “I was able to see first-hand the differences my attorneys were able to make for their clients, and how in-depth they got with their cases, and I wanted to do the same.”
“While using CIP does cause a gap in the manning of the Navy and the JAG community, in the long-term, the Navy is getting something so much better out of it. In my case, the Navy got a lawyer who is also a paralegal, and an officer who also served as an enlisted Sailor,” she added.
Clark-Dawe, who hails from Webster, N.H., also noted how CIP promotes diversity. Those who use CIP as she did – enlisted personnel who complete law school and become an officer – bring a different and valuable perspective to the JAG community. Clark-Dawe completed boot camp, received her undergraduate degree while serving as an Aviation Technician Petty Officer, was named a Lead Petty Officer, and fully understands the capabilities of her Legalman colleagues. Her experiences have given her a singular viewpoint and useful skills.
“CIP is important to the JAG community because there are a lot of opportunities for lawyers and officers that don't fit neatly into any existing programs,” said Adams. “It’s a great opportunity.”
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