Everyone in the Air Force, and the DoD for that matter, is paid by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS). Once you join the Air Force someone will set you up with a “myPay” account page on the DFAS web site. You can use myPay to manage almost anything finance related (e.g., download your W-2 tax forms, change how you claim on your W-4, set up allotments which are automatic transfers from your paycheck to separate bank accounts, or view your pay stubs.)
The first one you are likely concerned with is your military pay stub, which we call a Leave and Earnings Statement (LES.) There are a lot of other sites out there which explain how to view your LES, so I am just going to focus on how you can use the internet to calculate your military pay once you commission.
The LES is divided into three main financial sections; Entitlements, Deductions, Allotments, and Summary. Here is a breakdown of each:
Your entitlements are what the military owes or pays you. There are two main types of entitlements, Base Pay and Allowances. The main difference between the two is base pay is taxable, allowances are not. This is a huge unseen benefit of being in the military.
My LES is composed of the following entitlements:
- Base Pay
- Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS)
- Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH)
Base Pay is a publicly available number anyone can reference on the web. Click Here for the link to the DFAS site which has all of the military pay tables from 1949 to the present. To find your base pay, find your Time in Service (TIS) in Years at the top of the chart. If you are a non-prior at OTS, I assume your TIS starts the day you begin OTS, so your TIS will be “2 or less.” Next, find your pay grade and you will see your “Base Pay.”
The day you start OTS you will be a Staff Sergeant, which is pay grade E-5. The day you commission you will be separated as a Staff Sergeant and commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, O-1. Prior enlisted officers (over three or four years TIS, I can’t remember), can qualify for O-1E which is a slightly higher rate.
The 2017 base pay for an O-1, 2 or less TIS is: $3,034.80 per month (taxable).
Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS)
The military pays us a standard rate per month for food. The military doesn’t control how you spend this money, so you could technically spend $100 on rice and beans for the entire month and pocket the rest, but this is the allowance you are given. Every time I search for an official site for this I always find a different site. When I did the search today, the .gov site actually had the wrong number (it wasn’t updated since 2014). Nonetheless, here is the site which matches what I get for BAS.
The BAS is the same rate for the entire year, one rate for officers and one rate for enlisted. Here is the site:
The 2017 BAS for officers is: $253.63 per month (non-taxable).
I honestly can’t remember how this works while in OTS. I think you get BAS but since you have the chow hall available for each meal you eat they deduct it from your pay in the form of “Meal Deductions” under the deductions category.
Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH)
The military also gives us an allowance for housing. This rate is calculated by zip code, pay grade, and whether or not you have dependents. In the Air Force if you are single, you have no dependents. If you are married you have one dependent; you are the sponsor and your spouse is your dependent. If you are married and have two kids you have three dependents; you are the sponsor, your wife and kids are the dependents. The “with dependent” rate is the same regardless if you have one or seven dependents.
While in OTS as a non-prior you will not get BAH because you will be housed in the dorms. After OTS, your BAH will kick in once you arrive at your first duty station. For some, your first duty station is your first operational base, for others your first duty station is your tech school. It depends on your tech school length.
Here is the link to my post about how to tell if your tech school is a PCS or TDY:
If you are a non-prior with dependents my understanding for how this works is unclear, so this is only an educated guess. If you have dependents, your BAH may kick in for the zip code where your dependents are located once you start OTS. If that is the case you will get that rate until you check in to your next base. Ask the Facebook Forum for more details on this, the people there are “closer” to the issue and therefore more “in the know.”
Click Here for the official site for BAH.
The BAH for an O-1 at Tinker AFB, OK, without dependents is currently: $1,140.00 per month (non-taxable). I picked Tinker AFB because I think it is one of the lowest BAH rates.
Here is the summary of what a O-1 entitlements as of June 2017.
- Base Pay $3,034.80 per month
- BAS $253.63 per month
- BAH (Tinker AFB) $1,140.00 per month
I don’t really know how the government knows what to take out for taxes (does anyone?) I am just going to give you guys hard numbers and you can use them to make an educated guess for yourself.
- BASE PAY: $4,533.90
- FEDERAL TAXES: $291.74
- FICA-SOC SECURITY: $281.10
- FICA-MEDICARE: $65.74
- SGLI: $29.00
- SGLI FAM/SPOUSE: $6.50
- ROTH TSP: XXXX
- MID-MONTH-PAY: XXXX
Here is what I know about these:
- SGLI is life insurance. I pay $29.00 per month for $400,000 of coverage.
- SGLI Family/Spouse is life insurance for my family. I think it is $100,000 for my wife and $10,000 for my kids, something like that.
- Roth TSP: Through myPay you can set up a portion of your base pay to go straight to your Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). TSP is similar to a civilian 401K.
- Mid Month Pay: Given all of your entitlements, deductions, and allotments, the government calculates about half of this and pays you 1/2 on the 15th and 1/2 on the 1st. The “mid month pay” is what they pay you on the 15th.
Through myPay you can have some of your check go into one account and some of your money go into another account. Your primary account is going to be the one for your primary pay, allotments are for wherever else you want your money. I have my pay deposited in my checking account but I set up a $1,000 for a separate savings account. The $1,000 will show up in this section as “DISCRETIONARY ALT.”
The only other thing on my Allotments category is TRICARE DENTAL which costs me $28.87.
If my base pay was $6,000 and I had $1,000 in deductions and allotments, the government would owe me $5,000 per month. The military will divide this in two and pay me $2,500 on the 15th and $2,500 on the 1st. The mid-month-pay in deductions is the former, the End of Month Pay is the latter.
After OTS you should be entitled to “Dislocation Allowance” or “Clothing Allowance” (ask me if you have no idea what these are), and these will show up as an additional line in your “Entitlements.” For that month you will get paid more so your mid-month-pay may or may not be the same. A lot of times they won’t adjust your mid-month pay but they will “catch up” what they owe you at the end of the month. Sometimes they will over-estimate your mid-month pay then correct it for the End of Month. Sometimes, they will mess up your pay then add a $389.17 deduction to your next paycheck. Bottom line, pay attention to make sure that what they are doing makes sense. If it doesn’t, ASK FINANCE. If you don’t, they will probably never know that something is wrong until 9 months later when they realize you were overpaid by $8,000. If you don’t pay attention you won’t notice something is wrong until you don’t get paychecks for two months because they are re-couping the cost. This sounds crazy, but this actually happens.
Here is a site I found which spells out how to read an actual military LES:
This is another one of those questions where the answer is literally going to depend on what AFSC you are selected for. In general, after you complete OTS you will either Permanent Change of Station (PCS) to your first base then go Temporary Duty (TDY) to tech school, or you will PCS to your tech school and get a first base assignment while you are there (some AFSC’s call the night you get your assignment “drop night.”)
Here is the general differences between a PCS and TDY:
- Permanent Change of Station (PCS) – This is a more permanent arrangement. You are actually stationed at that base so you will get paid to have your own place (unless they make you stay in dorms).
- “Basic Allowance for Housing” or BAH is added to your pay for that duty location. Click Here to see the site which lists the BAH rate for all locations.
- In some cases at training bases you can also choose to live on base in which they will give you a house to live in on base but you will forfeit your BAH.
- A military version of “zillow” or “trulia” called “AHRN” can help you weed through a lot of the marketing when searching for a house to buy or rent. It is designed to help military members connect directly with realtors or property managers, and you can view pictures or descriptions of specific properties available. Click Here for the link.
- Temporary Duty (TDY) – Going TDY somewhere means you are just visiting that base. In this case while you are there you will get paid “per-diem” for that location. Per-diem includes an amount of daily money which goes toward food (again unless there is food available for free on base) and an amount of daily money allotted for lodging in an on or off base hotel.
- Click Here to see the site which will tell you how much they pay you per night for hotels. NOTE: The rate they charge you really doesn’t matter to you because the government establishes a rate for that location, and the hotel is going to charge you that max rate. Basically the money goes straight from the government to the hotel, you are just the middle man.
- In most cases if you are TDY for a class (i.e., tech school) they will require you live on base first unless they don’t have availability. If they don’t have availability, they will authorize you to stay off-base and give you a “non-availability letter” for your records. Keep this because it will be required when you file your travel voucher.
- Click Here for the web site with contact information for the on-base hotels. They also list the rates, but similar to above the rates do not really matter to you because the government is going to pay you at that rate for lodging regardless.
Air Force Education and Training Course Announcements (ETCA)
To get the official answer on the course length for your tech school, you need to go to the Air Force Education and Training Course Announcements (ETCA) web site. Unfortunately, this site is restricted to those with .mil access only (someone with a military ID card logging in on a .mil computer). I am personally surprised by the number of people who don’t know about this site. Each Course Announcement will provide details about the location of that course, the course length in Training Days, and specific logistical details students should know prior to arrival, and any other details needed for while they are there. This is all extremely valuable information.
The one thing the ETCA site doesn’t really have is the exact class dates associated with a specific course. The people who have direct access to this information are Unit Training Managers, which are Air Force personnel who specialize in managing training for entire Air Force units. I think they have a separate database or site they can use to see all of the class start and end dates associated with a specific course, usually for the entire Fiscal Year.
Is my class a PCS or TDY?
Now that you know how to find the course information, the key detail which helps you determine this answer is the course length. If a tech school course is less than 20 weeks, you are going to PCS to your first base and go TDY to your tech school. If your tech school course is 20 weeks or more in length, you are going to PCS to your tech school directly from OTS. There are likely exceptions to this rule, but this is generally how it is going to work. Here is why.
The Air Force Instruction (AFI) on assignments specifically answers this question. As of May 26, 2017, this is how the AFI is written. I encourage you to go to the Air Force e-Publishing site and read it for yourself. Click Here for the e-Publishing web site and search for AFI 36-2110, Assignments. (Just search 36-2110 in the search box).
AFI 36-2110, Assignments (Downloaded May 26, 2017)
Paragraph 4.6. Determining TDY or PCS to Attend a Course of Instruction. The following applies when an Airman is to attend a course of instruction. The JFTR, Volume 1, U2146 establishes that when an Airman is to attend a course (or courses) of instruction of less than 20 calendar weeks, then attendance will be in TDY status (use the duration of the course(s) as shown in Air Force Education and Training Course Announcements (ETCA) (https://etca.randolph.af.mil) at any one location, or total duration of courses when attending two or more courses at the same location). (EXCEPTION: Assign enlisted Airmen graduating from basic training to school in PCS status if assigning them directly to a technical school regardless of the course length.) The length of TDY must not exceed the number of calendar days from the course reporting date to the final graduation date as shown in the quota allocation, plus all allowable travel time. Conversely, when an Airman will attend a course (or courses) at one location and the official length of the course(s) is 20 weeks or more, then the Airman will attend in PCS status. When an Airman’s attendance status is TDY, but he or she remains at a location for 20 weeks or more (for example, if an Airman is required to repeat a block of training), the original attendance status of TDY based on the course length is not changed from TDY to PCS. Similarly, when an Airman’s attendance status is PCS based on the course length and he or she completes the course (or is eliminated) in less than 20 weeks, the original attendance status of PCS is not changed to TDY. Upon determining attendance will be in a TDY status, then see paragraph 2.26.5, Table 4.1, and paragraph 4.6 below.
It took me about a year of doing this blog to realize how difficult it is for civilians to transition from civilian life to commissioned officer. Under perfect circumstances, your entire life is on hold until results come out because it is one of the most drastic life changes I can think of. Throw in delayed board dates, miscommunication with recruiters, or medical complications, and I can see why this blog is as popular as it is! Please, continue to ask me tons of questions so I can keep this blog relevant.
As I alluded to in my previous post, things happen very quickly after OTS. The first thing you have to worry about is how you are going to get from OTS at Maxwell AFB, AL to wherever your first base will be. In the last post, I talked about entitlements and provided a brief glimpse of how the military views travel days and Permanent Changes of Station (PCSing). In this post, I want to focus on our entitlement of the government helping us move our stuff. When the Air Force asks us to move the Air Force will hire moving companies to pack up our entire house free of charge, move it from one location to another, and unpack it at the new location.
Disclaimer: I am not 100% of how this works for civilians, so please let me know if any of this is inaccurate or misses the heart of the concern.
Normal Permanent Changes of Station (PCSs)
For a normal PCS you will normally find out where your first base will be about six months from when you would depart. This is getting an “assignment.” About 60 days prior to your departure, you will get “orders” which is the actual AF Form 899 which authorizes or ‘orders’ you to move from one location to another. Once you get your orders you can start actually making travel arrangements such as setting up TMO.
TMO stands for Traffic Management Office, but it has evolved into a term which describes the process of the military picking up all of your stuff and moving it from one location to another. Technically, I think the term TMO is gone and it has been transitioned to the Joint Personal Property Shipping Office (JPPSO), but it seems like both are still used interchangeably.
About three days prior to graduation you will probably have a briefing at OTS describing this process. In general, TMO is divided into the following categories:
- Household Goods – the majority of your shipment. TMO will arrange for a local moving contractor to show up at your house and literally pack everything in your house up and put them in shipping crates. Washing machines, dryers, beds, dressers, couches, it all can go. Timing will vary, but in general expect for it to take two months for them to get your stuff from A to B.
- Unaccompanied Baggage – You can arrange to have TMO pick up a smaller shipment which will arrive much quicker, I think closer to six weeks. This cannot contain major furniture but can include air mattresses, silverware, a few pots or pans, sheets, or clothes. Again I think they say six weeks but it can be faster.
Moving After OTS
I have hesitated with making a post on this because everyone’s situation will look completely different. In my mind here are a few ways you can make this move work:
- Drive to OTS with everything you own, and don’t worry about TMO. If you choose this option I think you can set up a TMO shipment from your parents house or from a storage unit once you are fully established and settled at your first base.
- Drive or fly to OTS with the bare minimum, and leave the rest of your stuff at home or in a storage unit. Once you graduate you can have a TMO Household Goods or Unaccompanied Baggage pickup set up for your delivery at your first base. In this case you may be able to use a Power of Attorney to allow your family members to sign for the pickup when you are ready. In this case it would probably be best to have what stuff will go in which shipment pre-arranged with your family members.
- Drive or fly to OTS with the bare minimum, and plan to fly back home after OTS to move. This option would be hard to coordinate because it can take time to setup the pickups. Additionally, you may not have a lot of time after OTS and before you have to sign in to your first base.
I should probably mention that there is a weight limit for what you can ship for free through these entitlements, but in most cases it is more than enough. The JTR currently establishes the weight allowance for O-1’s at 12,000 lbs with dependents, 10,000 lbs without dependents. Click Here for the source documentation.
Things move very quickly after you graduate OTS. Once you get your orders the first thing you want to do is go line by line to make sure everything is accurate. You will want to make sure it says where you are PCSing from (Probably Maxwell AFB) and where you are PCSing to (your first base). The thing that is really important is your Report No Later Than Date (RNLTD). This is the date by which you must be signed in to your next base.
For the sake of discussion we will say your OTS graduation date is 1 December. The Joint Travel Regulation (JTR) is the governing document which dictates travel entitlements for Air Force travel (in addition to all other services). For a PCS, we are currently given one travel day per each 350 miles of travel. If your first base is Wright Patterson AFB which is roughly 618 miles away, you would have two travel days (618 miles / 350 miles = 1.77 days).
Here is a link to the Defense Travel site Frequently Asked Questions: Click Here
In this case, this is likely how your timeline may look. AFPC may give you a RNLTD of 4 December.
- 1 December – Graduation
- 2 December – Travel Day #1
- 3 December – Travel Day #2
- 4 December – RNLTD
In my case, I wanted to have a little more time to travel since I was driving to my first base with my family (including small children). Luckily while I was in OTS I was able to request a RNLTD extension. The general process was to get approval from your Flight Commander, your gaining unit at your first base, then routing the paperwork through the Det 12/24 TRS Commander for signature. Once complete you route the paperwork through the personnelists at OTS (in the PAC counter) and they will submit it to AFPC for final approval. If approved (sometimes it isn’t), the personnelists at OTS will give you ammended orders with a new date. The PAC counter at OTS is the overall point of contact for this entire process.
For the sake of discussion, your RNLTD gave you plenty of time or your extension was approved. The only thing you need to worry about is getting to your first base by that date. If you only have two authorized travel days but take longer, any additional days will be charged as leave. This is all done after the fact when you file your travel voucher; you don’t need prior approval. As a general rule just keep all of your receipts because it will help you file your voucher when you get to your first base.
Here is how it could look if you take leave en-route.
- 1 December – Graduation
- 2 December – Travel Day #1
- 3 December – Travel Day #2
- 4 December – Leave
- 5 December – Leave
- 6 December – Leave
- 7 December – Leave
- 8 December – Signed in to first base
- 14 December – RNLTD
In this case 8 December will become your “Date Arrived on Station” at your first base, and it will start your clock at that base. For your travel, you will be charged four days of leave and given the two travel days for ‘free.’ It really doesn’t matter where in the travel those leave or travel days take place, they just account for the aggregate number at the end. In this case you arrived prior to your RNLTD and that is no problem.
A graduate from class 17-03 (Det 12) sent me the following updates about OTS. He made a few really good points that I never thought about spelling out specifically in the past:
- Military Pay: If you are a civilian it may take a while for your pay to start kicking in. It is easy to think this is an issue with the OTS staff but changes to military pay in general take a long time. If all goes well for an active duty person, you can see changes to your military pay in as little as three weeks, but for anyone it can take up to several months. I think one of the main reasons for this is because it has to first make it through AF-level personnel then it has to be submitted to DFAS which manages the pay for the entire DoD.
- Tip #1: If your pay is messed up or you aren’t getting paid at all, SPEAK UP. All leadership (OTS staff, operational AF, AETC training, etc.) acknowledges that not getting paid is a major, real issue. If you bring it up they will move mountains to help you out.
- Tip #2: Double check everything. Cross reference your base pay, BAS, and BAH with separate sources online. I’ll do a specific post on this later with links and a brief explanation of a pay statement (LES).
- Tip #3: If something doesn’t look right and you get paid a bunch of money you don’t think you are entitled to, DON’T SPEND THE MONEY! Once DFAS figures out the mistake they can straight up stop paying you until the debt is paid.
- PCS’ing to Your First Base: After you get orders (AF Form 899) it will include what is called a Report No Later Than Date (RNLTD). This date will almost always be a few days after OTS graduation, so you need to plan for things to move fast after you graduate. The DoD basically takes your graduation date then gives you “travel days” based on the number of miles it takes to drive to your first base. The calculation is something like 350 to 400 miles per day. If it takes you two days/600 miles to get to your first base, you will be authorized to take two travel days where the AF will pay you a little bit per mile and for lodging.
- In the operational Air Force they give you a RNLTD a month or two past when you will actually take leave. Finance calculates these travel days first then any extra days you take to get from A to B are charged as leave.
- Your RNLTD CAN BE CHANGED. You have to get approval from your gaining unit so you will have to dig and dig for phone numbers and ask someone at that unit. The process when I was there was for your Flight Commander to sign a memo request, your gaining unit to approve the memo, then the 24 TRS/CC or Det 12/CC to finally approve it. Once they approve it you give it back to personnel and they amend your orders in 3-4 days (at the fastest). Check with personnel on the specific process when you are there.
- In summary, unless you have everything in your car and you are ready to drive straight to your next base, if you want to take leave you may have to request a RNLTD extension.
- Finally, Your Gaining Base will not know you are coming: We are an electronic Air Force and everything personnel related is tracked in a database. This includes PCSing, your personnel records, assignments, etc. Because OTS is off cycle to the rest of the AF, and because they can’t load an officer assignment for an enlisted dude, your orders are cut by hand and manually produced on the AF Form 899.
- You as an OTS grad will bypass this normal electronic process, so you have to reach out and bridge this gap yourself.
- It is crucial you keep copies of your orders because unlike later in your career, you cannot log back in and just re-print them.
- Try to established the relationship with your first base as early as possible. Units are supposed to give you a sponsor to help you with your move. They will provide local info, tips, contacts for setting stuff up, getting you a temporary address, etc. Ask for them to assign you a sponsor because they won’t know you are coming.
Comments from the grad:
– They’re doing pretty different stuff between Det 12 and TRS 24 right now. In fact, the 24th is being unofficially called a “guinea pig” experiment right now as they’re cramming all of the material into even fewer weeks, but still keeping cadets for the standard amount of total time. For example, I believe last week they had their CWT #2, SPT #2, PFA, and a briefing all in the course of a standard week. So it seems like they’re trying to determine whether OTS can be further condensed. Also, we (Det 12) only had 4ish people sent home total, and they had already had 15 sent home by the time we graduated, and they still had a few weeks left.
– Our Det 12 class was the first one (according to staff) that was put 4 to a dorm room. It was pretty packed but we got used to it. Interestingly, this was also one of the first (or perhaps the only) class to have zero self eliminations. The staff is trying to figure out if there’s a connection between the two, but I don’t know what the future implications of this will be.
– I’d say around 20% of our class never received pay while at OTS. This might not be something to tell incoming students so that they don’t worry about it, but OTS has acknowledged that their finance department is in need of change.
– They’re getting rid of the ropes course this year. Bummer, because it’s really fun.
– AEF was only two days for us, as our class was too big. Two squadrons went out for Monday afternoon through Wednesday afternoon, the other two for Wed afternoon through Fri afternoon.
– Maybe just give a little note to non-priors especially that there is a very good chance they’ll be PCSing to their next duty station immediately after OTS. This is primarily for those cadets who might otherwise fly to OTS – I would have driven with my household goods from the Northwest for OTS if I had known that I would have a report date of 12 March after graduating 10 March.
– They’re getting rideof TFIT in the next yearish – I think you already knew this. [NOTE, this has been confirmed to start for class 17-07 (click here)].
– They’re looking at the possibility of offering online lessons prior to OTS so that there is less classroom/reading time and more application. I’m a big fan of this concept, but it’s not official yet and might not happen for some time, if at all. Leadership seemed to be on board with the idea of it though.
– Don’t hide stuff in laundry bags. They loved to check those.
Follow up comments from a recent 24 TRS grad:
I’m in 17-04, so I wanted to clarify and comment on the points from the 17-03 grad.
I have received this question a few times so I figured I may as well do a post on it. In most cases, you should know where you will be going after OTS fairly early. As a 13S I knew my next base well before I even left for OTS. Any time you permanently leave a base during your career it is called a Permanent Change of Station (PCS). Most, if not all, will PCS from Maxwell after training.
Prior Active Duty
Non-Prior Active Duty
Report No Later Than Date (RNLTD)
- A fixed amount per mile calculated by the DoD from your departing to arriving base (something like $0.60).
- Lodging for the allotted travel days you are authorized.
- Per-diem for the allotted travel days you are authorized.
The Perks of PCSing
- While you are traveling on orders hotels are only authorized to charge you a maximum rate if they have availability. This is calculated by county/zip code and you can find the maximum rate here. The reason I tell you this is because it doesn’t matter how nice the hotel is, that is the maximum rate they can charge you for that location. I took advantage of this benefit by staying in Hilton’s while I traveled from Maxwell to my first base. To get the most out of this, I also used my hotel rewards number so I got credit for the stay. When you book the reservation just be sure to ask for the ‘military’ or ‘government’ rate. The price difference was about $60 for most of the hotels I stayed in, so it was a considerable benefit.
- You can choose how you want to do this for the days you are traveling which will be charged as leave. When I PCS’d to my first base as an officer I actually used my hotel points so the price was basically the same when compared to the government rate. After I thought about it for a while I realized even though you are taking leave en route you are still traveling on official government orders. The rate you negotiate with the hotel is up to the discretion of the hotel so if you inform them you are on government orders and taking leave en route maybe they will give you the government rate anyways. Just be honest with them and have them make the decision, maybe it will save you $60. They are honestly probably just happy to have your business because if they don’t give you a decent rate maybe they will lose your business.
- The last thing I will mention is one more entitlement I may have missed out on if I wasn’t paying attention. Because OTS was a TDY en route instead of a PCS I also had the benefit of the government paying for whatever luggage I took to and from OTS. In order to set this up I had to go to the JPPSO office prior to leaving my last base. They gave me some paperwork told me once I arrived at my next base to just turn in the paperwork to their JPPSO office. Basically prior to packing my car I filled the gas tank and had to get my vehicle weighed at a certified scale. After I packed I did the same thing, then I was to drive to OTS. I had to do the same thing after OTS prior to leaving Maxwell. I was paid an amount per pound because I had to haul the weight with me during my travel. I will note that the amount authorized was different for a TSgt than a 2d Lt, but not by much.
I received the following comment on a post and I thought it would be beneficial for all to hear.
“Being that you have been active duty for a while, what things do you look for when deciding what your base choices would be? For example, my wife and I thought that proximity to family, quality, etc would be important.”
This is a really tough question to answer because it really depends on what your priorities are, what career field you are in (or going in to), and what you want to do with your career. I will start by talking through some of the things I thought about over the years. I will separate this by enlisted vs. officer because the process or approach taken should be treated very differently for each.
My Enlisted Base Experience
When you first enlist you write down eight base choices available for your career field, but that is basically the extent of your personal influence on the situation. Once you submit your eight choices you are at the mercy of the available quotas outlined by AFPC. The basic criteria of these choices are PCS timeline, quotas (slots available) and rank. I submitted my eight choices for my first base but I ended up getting a base that wasn’t on my list. If you are enlisted there are ways you can get a pretty good idea of the manning at each of the bases you are interested in and that can help you with getting the assignment you want. I didn’t figure this out until several years into my career.
Since my first base chose me (instead of the other way around), I didn’t really think about where I wanted to go. Once I got there, I began to realize there are a few factors which directly relate to your quality of life at that base. Here are a few I learned from my earlier assignments.
- Mission – Do some research on the missions available in your career field, and the overall morale associated with those missions. For example, in the Security Forces world there is a general dislike of the “nuke” or ICBM world due to the strict security requirements associated with the mission. Strict requirements means more challenges, and more challenges means less resources and manpower. Try to tap into the “general” missions first for example ICBM, fighter, bomber, research, space, etc. That will help you narrow down the bases.
- Overseas vs. stateside – Seriously, you want to go overseas. If you are younger you may desire to be closer to family. Once you join the military it becomes necessary to start your own life though, and the sooner you do the better off you will be. Everyone should do overseas tours early because it opens your eyes to the literal world around you, your parents are still young, and your kids or marriage is young (if you have them). Once you have more roots and a family you can do your time stateside and take care of your parents.
- City size – This matters to a lot of people, but the trick is that some people don’t know what they prefer until they leave what they had. I lived in a very small area close to a medium sized city and moved to a base with a medium sized city, so my first transition was easy. Later in my career I moved to a fairly large city and realized I preferred that instead. Be cognizant of this but I wouldn’t use it as a determining factor.
- Family (parents and siblings) – Despite what I said about cutting ties, I absolutely love my family. Being halfway across the US is tough, but I also had to accept I was in the military. You will have to decide this one for yourself. Think about factors such as driving time, airline ticket expenses, etc. If you are serious about a base actually calculate the airline cost because some bases may seem fairly close but be small enough that they require a regional flight on both ends which racks up the price.
- Church – This can be very important to some people. It can be very frustrating to be stuck at a base that doesn’t have a church which meets your religious or spiritual needs. If it is important enough to you, you will want to do the research.
- Local Hobbies – What do you like to do, and what does your future base have to offer? If you know a location is similar you may be in good shape, but if your hobbies are drastically different from a base you may struggle. A lot of this is about attitude though. Having a positive attitude and being open to trying new things can completely change your experience.
- Crime, neighborhoods, parks – I wanted my family to have a healthy and safe environment around my house, so this began to play a role. Look up the crime rates and try to get a feel for the different cities you are looking at.
- Commute – What is the typical commute to and from work, and where do most people live? For example at one base I loved my 45 minute commute because it was a quiet and peaceful drive. At my next base I absolutely hated my 25 minute commute because it was gridlock every day. This one will likely vary throughout your career.
- Medical support – We decided to have our baby off base so the quality of local hospitals played a role in where we wanted to live. This is more of a decision for finding a part of town you want to live in, not finding a city you want to PCS to (since most cities have good off-base medical).
- Military culture – Some cities by bases love the military population for various reasons. Some cities hate the military population because of the trouble it can bring. Additionally, the culture of the city itself can be different based on the makeup of the population. If the city has the only university in that region of your state, the city culture may be college with a military population present. If a city has multiple bases in city limits, the entire city could feel like a military base. Keep in mind bases from other branches can have a different effect on the culture of the city.
- Schools – Think about how old your kids are and what grades they will be in for your assignment, and try to gauge the quality of the skills based on what you want for your kids.
- Know the assignment process. You may think it is all to chance but you should know how it is up to chance, and what part of the process is under your control (it is more than you think.) Know the regulations, and make sure you understand the timelines and AFPC processes. Knowledge really is power with assignments. Keep in mind there is a normal career field process and a separate process called “Special Duties.” Special duties are different jobs which you can do outside of your career field. This can open up a few more options for people with limited assignment options.
- Once you know the process, do the research and make your decision. You should be making an informed decision based on what is important to you. Once you submit your choices just let the chips fall. The Air Force is going to do what it is going to do, and fighting it will only make your life more difficult.
- Embrace your next assignment. Get into what is fun to locally do there, don’t gripe about not being able to do what you used to do. Every base will have things you like and things you don’t like. Learn to accept the base for what it is, and focus on the things about the base you do like. Most of all, enjoy your time there.
- Again, always have a positive attitude. If your hobby isn’t available there, find a new one. If there are literally no hobbies, go back to school. You can always grow and develop, and each base can define your life in a positive way.
- Although the above process and priorities aren’t much different for an officer’s first assignment, the process changes more and more as you progress through your career. In short, your career progression plays a larger role in where you go as you progress. An officer is expected to have a certain degree of experience within his or her career field. If you have done a job already, it would be bad to do the same job at a different base. On the flip side, you don’t want to be a floater with no depth of experience. I wouldn’t worry about this at first but just know that things change as you progress through your officer career.
- Instead of the enlisted process of ‘submit your preferences and see what happens,’ each officer has a career counselor (I can’t remember the correct name). When you are hot for an assignment you submit an in-depth assignment preference profile and your counselor will contact to personally work your assignment. The assignment preference profile is called Airman Development Plan (ADP). You are of course limited by available openings, but you have to know the general gist of how you want the next chapter of your career to fit into your total career. This isn’t as important for your second assignment, but becomes extremely important as you progress.
- This probably goes without saying, but the higher your rank, the less say you have on where can you go (lots of Lt slots but very few General slots). Additionally, saying no to assignments can close doors in your career that can never be re-opened. If you say no to an assignment you could be saying no to O-6 even though it is years down the road. DON’T WORRY ABOUT THIS until you are well into your career and have an idea what you want to do with your life. I tell you this to point out that you have to begin to think about other factors as an officer. Regardless of what you do, stay true to your own personal values. Don’t sacrifice your family for an assignment which may help your career. Make every assignment decision with your family and not on your own.