I have received several questions about the Security Forces career field (31P). This particular response was an email I sent to someone who was prior Army, and he asked me for general information as well as how I thought AF Security Forces related to the Army. Here was my response.
Hands down, the quality of life in the AF vs. Army will be much better IMO. A lot of it will depend on your career field because there are a lot of career fields such as Finance, Contracting, Personnel, Services, etc. which will pretty much always work Monday through Friday, 0730 – 1630. Officers may put in a little more work hours in these career fields but a lot of that is under your control. For example, if you really want to get a something done or you suck at drawing the line or with time management, some officers may stay until 1730 or 1800 (or later). IMO, this is completely avoidable in most cases.
There are other career fields where you may be prone to shift work for the first few years, but as an officer you will typically advance to the support staff. Jobs like maintenance, Security Forces, perhaps Logistics, perhaps Comm, or other ops related (non-rated) positions which support a 24/7 mission will be shift work. In general the Air Force doesn’t like to work 12 hour shifts but there are often times when it is necessary. For any given four year tour in space, our shift work guys may be working 12’s for two years and 8’s for the other two. It really depends on the overall ops tempo, what is going on in the world, and what career field. My squadron has been working 12’s for the past 8 months but after that we are switching to 8’s. Like I said it is case-by-case.
In general the rated career fields such as pilots, navigators, ABMs, etc. are going to deploy the most and have the highest ops tempo. I’m not really sure how much these officers deploy though as far as length. I think it is closer to 4-6 months with a lot of time in between vs. 6 months on/6 months off. This would be a good question for the Facebook group.
I have been to four AF bases and at every base I have worked shifts for about one year then switched to some sort of M-F job. I am probably luckier than most though, but you have to remember I was there as an enlisted Airman, not an officer. At my first base I was on flight for about two years. I was Security Forces so we as a squadron worked 24/7. My schedule was three days on where we traveled out to the missile field, and we worked 12 hours shifts. This wasn’t bad because there was no extra BS before or after the shift. When you shift started you were wearing your uniform and you were the one that responded to alarms, but your shift was basically always over at 12 hours. On the third or fourth day we traveled back to base and we were off for 3-4 days, then we did it all over again. Sometimes while we were back on base we worked from 0800-1400 for training on one day but that wasn’t bad. After my first two years doing this, I was hired for a M-F and got all of the federal holidays and a few MAJCOM down days off as well. Christmas/Thanksgiving, Memorial, Independence were all four day weekends along with a few others, and the other holidays were three day weekends. My duty hours there were 0730-1630, later on same days, earlier on others. During this period we did not deploy at all at our squadron.
At my next base I was on shift work for another two years and our schedule sucked. I was still Security Forces and our routine schedule was six days on, three days off, eight hour shifts. We had to arm up and de-arm before/after shift so the 8 hour days were more like 10 hour days. What made it bad though was whenever we had an “op” going on we switched to 12’s (really 14) and many people lost their days off. This was probably the worst schedule of my career. After those first two years I was hired for another M-F 0730-1630 job like above, but sometimes we had to support the ops so we worked the 12’s during that week. We rarely lost our weekends though so that made it better, but it was still a lot of hours. At this base about half of the people did one short deployment in the 2-4 year tour (the length of tour overseas there depended on rank).
I retrained to comm after that so I spent about six months training to be in the new career field. After training I went to another job which worked 24/7 but we did eight hour shifts. Comm was different in that our eight hour shifts were actually eight hours, so it was awesome. We worked two day shifts, two swing shifts, two mid shifts, and four days off then it rotated back again. It sounds crazy but this was my favorite schedule of my career. I did that for another 18 months or so then I was hired for another M-F job (this was a trend for me).
Now that I am a space officer we are working 12 hour shifts in my squadron, but it isn’t too bad. We work three days on, three days off, 6-6. Our shifts are basically done after the 12 hours so it is not bad at all. My typical day was to get up at 0430-0500, be at work for shift change at 0530, and work all the way until 1730. While on shift I work in an air conditioned building and the only downside is that I can’t have my phone. I use computers to communicate with satellites, downloading data and making sure they aren’t broken. During my shift if I have nothing going on there are two of us, I am free to go to gym or get lunch as long as nothing is going on. I have random tasks I have to do but I have down time where I can surf the web, work on admin stuff, or just BS. At 1730 they arrive for shift change and I am usually walking out at 1745. I usually get home around 1830 or so because I have a 30 minute commute. I do this for three days, then my three days off are typically untouched.
At my squadron we have other positions and officers, and some of them work a little more just because they like to, but most of the M-F officers still work from 0730-1630. Some of the alternative positions are 4 on three off around 0600-1530, it just depends.
I have had a lucky career so my story isn’t the best but also not the worst, so take that for what it is. We usually don’t have any trouble taking leave when we want and generally the work in the isn’t bad at all, especially if you aren’t on the flightline.