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What the Recruiter Never Told You
Part 8: Leave and Other Goodies

Leave (Vacation)
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1-Getting Started
2-Meeting the Recruiter
3-Enlistment Processing
4-Enlistment Goodies
5-Base Pay & Housing
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7-Special & Incentive Pays
9-Commissaries & Exchanges
10-MWR
11-Medical Care
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Whether you're the lowest enlisted rank, or a 4-Star General (or Admiral), all military personnel get the same amount of vacation time. Military members get 30 days of paid leave per year, earned at the rate of 2.5 days per month.

Unlike civilian leave programs, however, military leave, taken over weekends and holidays count as "leave taken." For example, if you take leave, beginning on Monday for 12 days, until the following Friday after, the Saturday and Sunday in the middle is counted as leave.

According to military regulations, leave must start and end in the local area. That means, if you begin your leave on Monday, you cannot leave the local area until Monday, even if you are off-duty on Saturday and Sunday. Conversely, if you schedule your leave to end on a Friday, you must return to the local area on that Friday, even if you're not scheduled for work until the following Monday.

Normal leave is approved/disapproved by the member's immediate supervisor. Emergency leave (someone in your immediate family dies or is seriously ill), is approved by the commander or first sergeant, upon verification of the emergency (usually from the Red Cross). Emergency leave still counts against your authorized leave time (30 days per year). The commander is the approval authority if one must take more leave than they have currently earned. (Example, let's say you've been in the military for four months, and you've not taken any leave. You should have 10 days of leave "saved up" -- 2.5 days per month for four months. Assume your father gets very sick, and you need 15 days to go home and see him. You would be using five days you haven't earned yet, so the commander would have to approve it. When you returned, you would be five days "in the hole," so it would be two months before you have a "zero leave balance" and would begin earning leave again.

Except for emergency leave, and Christmas Exodus (discussed below), commanders are usually reluctant to approved leave that hasn't been earned yet. This is because, under the law, if a person is discharged (for any reason) and they have a negative leave balance, they must repay the military one day's base pay for each day they are "in the hole" as of the date of the discharge.

Leave is calculated according to the "fiscal year" (1 October to 30 September). One is allowed to "carry over" only a maximum of 60 days from fiscal year to fiscal year. (Note: Exceptions can be approved if one can show that they were denied leave due to military necessity for unusual situations, such as long-term deployments). In other words, if you have 65 days of leave on the books on 30 September, 5 of those days will be "lost" when the ca lander rolls over to 1 October. So, on 1 October, you will have 60 days "on the books."

Leave can be "sold back" at the time of reenlistment and separation/retirement. For each day of leave you have saved, you can sell it back for one day's base pay (taxable). One can only sell back a maximum of 60 days of leave during a career. It does not have to be all at one time. For example, one could sell back 10 days of leave during their first re-enlistment, then 10 days during their next re-enlistment, etc.

It's generally not a good idea to sell back leave until/if one has enough rank/time-in-service so that their base pay is high enough to make it worthwhile. For example, using current pay charts, if an E-4 (over 4 years in the military) sold back 30 days of leave, he/she would receive (before taxes) $1680.30. However, if he waited until he/she was an E-8, with 20 years of service, he/she would receive $3420.30.

In addition (or instead) of selling leave back, one can take "terminal leave" when they are discharged or retire. For example, let's say you are scheduled to be discharged (or retired) on 1 September, and you have 30 days of leave "saved up." You can out process from the military 30 days early, then continue to receive full pay (including base pay, housing allowance, food allowance, and any special pays), until your official date of discharge.

Leave After Basic Training

With the exception of the Marine Corps, who authorizes all recruits to take 10 days of leave, immediately following boot camp, one does not normally get their first military leave until they graduate technical school/AIT/A-School. After technical school/AIT/A-School, one is normally authorized to take 10 days of leave, if their first assignment is to a CONUS (stateside) base, and 15 days of leave if their first assignment is to an overseas base (Note: For extremely long schools, longer leaves may be authorized upon graduation). The 10/15 rule is usually automatic, and contained in the written orders, and apply even if it results in the recruit going into "the hole" on their leave balance. (Of course the person doesn't have to take all, or any of the leave-time authorized).

During the two weeks around Christmas time, the Army pretty much shuts down basic training, and AIT schools. The Air Force and Navy do not shut down basic training, but do shut down many of their job schools (Tech Schools and A Schools). This period is known as "Christmas Exodus." Recruits are usually allow to go home on leave at this time, if they want, even if it results in going "in the hole" on their leave balance. Recruits who choose not to take leave at this time, are normally assigned to do details (answer phones, cut the grass, etc), because most of the instructors/drill sergeants will be away on leave, and classes are not conducted during this time. Usually (but not always) if a recruit takes leave during Christmas Exodus, that results in a negative leave balance, and they won't be authorized to take leave after school graduation (Note: For long schools, individuals may have had time to "save up" some more leave. They would normally be allowed to take that leave, after graduation, if they want).

In most cases, the cost of travel is at the member's expense, while on leave. However, in the cases of Emergency Leave, while assigned/deployed overseas, or deployed at sea (Navy/Marines), the military will arrange free transportation back to the States. Once the individual arrives at the "port of entry," in the States, the cost of travel to their leave area is up to them. Once the leave is finished, the military will also arrange for free transportation from the "port" back to the overseas/sea duty assignment.

Passes. A "pass" is non-chargeable "time-off." During a military member's normal off-duty time, they are automatically considered to be on a "Regular Pass." In the old days of military service, a military member had to have permission to be "off-duty," and to leave the base. To even go off base, they would have to have a written pass from their commander and/or first sergeant. Today, the "regular pass" is a person's military ID card. With a few exceptions (such as basic training, or phase restrictions in technical school), a military person can leave the base when off-duty without special permission.

Another type of pass is a "special pass." An example would be the 3-day pass. These are special passes issued by the commander, first sergeant, or (sometimes) supervisor for "time off," often given as a reward for superior performance. Usually, a special pass cannot be used "back-to-back" with leave, and cannot (in most cases) be used in conjunction with a weekend or other scheduled off-duty time.

Permissive Temporary Duty Assignment (PTDY). Sometimes a military member wants to attend a conference or class or function, that the military won't pay for, but which benefits the individual professionally (which thereby benefits the military). In such cases, the commander can authorize a Permissive TDY. Members on Permissive TDY do not receive any travel pay, or re-imbursement (like they would for an official TDY), but the isn't charged against their leave. Examples of permissive TDYs would be the Hometown Recruiter's Assistance Program, or a computer specialist attending a Microsoft ™ certified computer course.

Hometown Recruiter Assistance Program

With the approval of the recruiter and the school commander, recruits may be authorized a "permissive TDY" to return to their home town and assist the recruiter (for up to 20 days, depending on the service). A "permissive TDY" means the military won't pay the travel costs, but the time is not counted against leave. Recruiter Assistance Duty can often be combined with leave, so the member spends some of their time at home working with the recruiter, and some of their time at home, on leave. The amount of leave that can be combined with the Recruiter Assistance Program, and the length of the authorized Permissive TDY varies from service to service.

AIT/Tech School/A-School

Restrictions on your freedoms are not over just because you graduated boot camp. For non-prior-service enlistees, there are restrictions placed on your freedoms (curfew, restriction to base, wearing of civilian clothes, etc.) for the first portion of Technical School (Air Force), AIT, or Advanced Individual Training (Army), and A-school (Navy). The restrictions are reduced the longer you are in training (assuming you progress satisfactory).

In general, if your school is longer than 20 weeks (at a single location), dependents are authorized to travel to the school location and set up a household, at government expense (see First Duty Station Travel Entitlements, below). If the length of the school is less than 20 weeks, government reimbursed transportation is not authorized, in most cases. However, dependents are certainly allowed to relocate, on their own, at their own expense. In either case, members in job school receive a housing allowance, based upon the actual location of their dependents.

It's important to remember that (except for the Marines), leave is not usually authorized following basic training. This means the dependents would have to make the move completely on their own, without the member's presence (however, if they are going to be a "military family," this is something they should get used to, in any event). Also, the member is probably going to be restricted to base during the first part of their training (usually, the first 30 days or so), so the dependents may have to do all the "house-hunting," to find a place to live, on their own.

First Duty Station Travel Entitlements

Travel Pay. When you graduate technical school/AIT/A-school, the military will pay the authorized costs for you to go from your technical school/AIT/A-school location to your next duty assignment (or, to the "port" of your military flight for overseas assignments). There are two ways that military will do this (your choice): They will either provide you with an airline ticket, directly from your school location to the next duty assignment (or port call), or they will pay you a mileage allowance, plus per diem for each day you are in an authorized travel status. They will also pay a mileage allowance and (1/2 per-diem) for any authorized dependents to travel from their location to the duty station.

Before you depart your school, you can visit Finance (with copies of your orders), and normally receive an advance (about 80 percent) of your estimated travel pay.

At present, the mileage allowance is 15 cents per mile, and the authorized per diem is $85.00 per day. Dependents (family members) receive 1/2 of the authorized per diem rate for each day of travel. The military computes the amount of travel time at the rate of 350 miles per day (that's the maximum amount of time you will be allowed to travel). However, you will only be paid per-diem for the actual days you travel (according to the Travel Voucher you must file when you complete the move). For example, let's say your assignment is 700 miles away from your school location. Your orders allow you two days of travel time, but you drive it in one day. You will only receive one day's per diem (for the actual day you traveled). Per diem is only paid when you are traveling from your school to your new duty assignment. If you go "out of the way" to take leave, you don't get mileage allowance/per diem for those days of travel (sometimes, your leave location is on the route of travel toward your next duty assignment, so you luck out).

If you are traveling with your dependents, in a single vehicle, the mileage rates are less:

Number of Passengers Rate Per Mile
1 $0.15
2 $0.17
3 $0.19
4 or more $0.20

The military does not pay you for travel on leave. They pay you for direct travel from your old duty assignment to your next duty assignment. If you travel home on leave, any additional cost is out of your pocket.

For example, let's say that you went to technical school/A-school/AIT at Base X. You have orders to Base Y which is 1,500 miles from Base X. You elect to travel home on leave after leaving Base X, before reporting to your new assignment at Base Y. You buy an airline ticket to your home, and it costs you $800. Your home is 400 miles away from Base Y (the new base you're reporting to after your leave). From home, you drive your car to your new base.

Assuming you had no dependents moving with you, for this move, you would receive travel pay of $225. This is the distance from your old base to your next base, multiplied by 15 cents per mile (of course, you would also receive $85 per day per diem for each authorized travel day, that you used actually traveling to your final destination). The $800 that you spent for a ticket home has nothing to do with it. That was travel to go ON LEAVE, which is out of your pocket, not the military's.

So, what if you don't drive a car? Suppose you leave Base X, buy a ticket home for $800, then buy a ticket from home to Base Y for $300 (for a total expenditure of $1,100)? In that case, the military will pay you what it would have cost THEM to buy you an airline ticket directly from Base X to Base Y. Let's assume that they would have paid $900.00. In this case, you would be re-imbursed $900, out of your total $1,100 expenditure.

Note: If you are driving a car or procuring your own airline ticket for TDY (Temporary Duty Assignment) travel, the rates are signifantly more:

Method Rate Per Mile
Car $0.365
Motorcycle $0.28
Airplane $0.975

Don't ask me why the rates for Temporary Duty travel are so much higher than the mileage rates for PCS (Permanent Change of Station) travel. It seems that Congress increases the TDY travel rate every few years. The PCS mileage rate hasn't changed in almost 20 years.

Privately Owned Vehicles (Overseas Assignments)

If you own a vehicle, and get an overseas assignment, the military will either ship the vehicle for you, or store it while you are away. Some assignments (such as most European bases) allow military members to bring their own Privately Owned Vehicles (POV) with them. If you are assigned to one of these locations, you can drive your POV to one of the many POV processing stations in the United States (you get mileage reimbursement -- see above), and the vehicle will be shipped to one of the processing stations in the area of your overseas assignment. When your vehicle arrives, you simply go to the overseas processing station, and pick it up.

Some locations don't allow the shipping of a POV (such as Japan), and others restrict POVs to certain ranks (such as Korea where you must be command-sponsored or in the rank of E-7 and above to own/operate a POV). In these cases, the military will store the POV for you for free while you are assigned overseas.

Property Shipment. The military will pay to move your personal property from your home location to your first permanent duty station, or, you can rent a truck, move it yourself (called a DITY move), and the military will reimburse you a portion of what they would have paid a contractor to move it (Warning: You must have advanced permission to do a DITY move, so make sure you visit the base Traffic Management Office [TMO] before doing this).

When you receive your written orders for your first duty station while you are at school, you take them to TMO, who will brief you, and arrange a date for contractors to pack and pickup your personal property. You do not have to be there personally when the packers arrive. If you are not able to be there, however, you must designate someone there (in writing) to be allowed to sign the shipping forms, and supervise the packers. Weight allowances depend on your rank and whether or not you have dependents. More details in our Property Shipment Page.

Dislocation Allowance. You may be entitled to a dislocation allowance (DLA) when relocating your household due to a PCS. However, keep in mind that DLA is intended to partially reimburse relocation expenses not otherwise reimbursed and probably will not reimburse all of your relocation expenses.

Under a brand new change in the law, members are now entitled to a dislocation allowance for their initial PCS move. Under previous law (2001 and prior) there was no DLA entitlement when the PCS is from your home (or the place where you entered active duty) to your first permanent duty station (PDS).

If you do not move dependents, you receive DLA at the without-dependents rate if you don’t occupy Government quarters (barracks/dormitory) at your new permanent duty station.

College Degrees and Commissioning Programs

The Air Force is the only service that actually issues college credits and college degrees. The Air Force does this through the Community College of the Air Force (CCAF) , which is a fully accredited community college (The largest community college in the World). The CCAF does not itself offer college courses. CCAF issues fully accredited college transcripts, and awards Associate of Science Degrees to Air Force Members in educational areas of their military specialties, using a combination of credits for off-duty college courses, military schools, and military experience.

The other services do not issue college degrees, nor do they actually award college credits. However, the American Council on Education (ACE) has recommendations for college credits for almost all military schools/jobs for the Army, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard, and most colleges and universities in the United States accept those recommendations for current/former military members enrolled in degree programs in their institutions.

I'm often asked if one can really get a college degree while on active duty. The answer is yes. Several hundred enlisted military personnel do this every year.

Each military base has an Education Office, who have arranged for colleges and universities to conduct college courses on-base, leading to various degree programs. However, one should realize that it takes much more time, then if you were going to college full-time as a civilian. For the most part, you're taking college courses, part-time, while off-duty on the weekends and evenings. Additionally, what your job is, and where you are assigned will play a large part in determining how much "free time" you have to attend college courses. A finance clerk assigned to a squadron that rarely deploys will have a better opportunity to attend off-duty college courses than an infantry troop, assigned to a company that trains "in the field" often.

However, even for those who don't work a "regular schedule," distance-learning has changed the face of getting an off-duty education. There are now several universities (some associated with the military, some not) who will allow you to take most (if not all) courses via the Internet. The Army even has a program where they will issue a free laptop computer to recruits enrolled in authorized distant learning programs. The Navy takes college professors with them on some of their larger ships, so they can offer off-duty college courses to sailors at sea.

In addition to taking courses off duty, each of the services have programs which allow some enlisted to remain on active duty and attend college full-time (receiving full pay and allowances). Some of these programs lead to a commission as an officer, some do not. Most require that you commit yourself for a longer hitch in the military. Most require that you obtain some college (usually two or three years) on your own, first. ALL of these programs are extremely competitive. There are many, many, many more applicants for these programs than there are available "slots" each year. So, if you plan to compete for one of those few available slots, you need to be the "best of the best." That means top grades, outstanding military record, and "walk on water" written recommendations from your supervisors and commander.

Enlisted members who do obtain a college degree while on active duty can apply for a commission through Officers Candidate School (Officer Training School for the Air Force). Again, there are generally many more applicants each year then there are available "slots," so -- if you want to be selected -- you have to be among the top.

Promotions

Each of the services have their own enlisted promotion systems. For the Army, Marines, and Air Force, promotions up to the grade of E-4 are pretty much automatic (assuming one doesn't get into trouble), based upon time-in-service and/or time-in-grade. The same is true for the Navy and Coast Guard up to the grade of E-3.

However, promotions to the grades of E-5 (E-4 for the Navy/Coast Guard) and above are competitive. There are more people eligible for promotion then there are available positions (Congress sets the number of enlisted personnel who can serve in each grade). Therefore, eligible personnel compete against other eligible personnel (within the same MOS/AFSC/Rating) for however number of slots are available that year. Promotion rates change each year, based upon several factors (including reenlistment rates) which determine how many slots in each rank will be available. The services each have their own methods to "choose the best," based upon points for specific achievements, to promotion boards, to combinations of both.

On average, here's how the services stack up against each other for *AVERAGE* promotion times:

E-2 to E-4: (Note: With the exception of the Navy & Coast Guard for the rank of E-4, promotions to the "lower grades" are pretty much "automatic," assuming individuals perform their duties adequately.

Branch

E-2

E-3

E-4

Army

6 months active duty & commander's recommendation

12 months active duty, 4 months as an E-2, and commander's recommendation

12 months active duty, 6 months as an E-3, and commander's recommendation

Air Force

6 months active duty & commander's approval

10 Months as an E-2, and commander's approval

36 months active duty, with 20 months as an E-3, or 28 months as an E-3, whichever comes first

Navy

9 months active duty and commander's approval

9 months as an E-2, demonstrated military and professional qualifications, and commander's approval

Based on Navy-wide vacancies within each career field. Averages 36 months active duty.

Marine Corps

6 months active duty

9 months active duty, 8 months as an E-2

24 months active duty, 12 months as an E-3, and meet established score.

Coast Guard

After completion of boot camp

Six months as an E-2, demonstration of military & professional qualifications, & commander's approval

Based on Coast Guard-wide vacancies within each career field. Averages 36 months active duty.

E-5 to E-9: (Note: Promotions to these grades depend upon several factors, including vacancies, qualifications, schools attended, promotion points awarded, etc. Below are the average years of service for promotion to the grades indicated):

Branch

E-5

E-6

E-7

E-8

E-9
Army

4.2 years

8.5 years

13.6 years

17 years

20.8 years
Air Force

4.4 years

12.9 years

16.9 years

19.7 years

22.1 years
Navy

5.2 years

11.3 years

14.4 years

17.1 years

20.3 years
Marine Corps

4.8 years

10.4 years

14.8 years

18.8 years

22.1 years
Coast Guard

6.5 years

11.1 years

15.4 years

18.6 years

20.3 years

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