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Benefits of service: Pay, leave, advancement

Benefits of service: Pay, leave, advancement

Benefits of service in the United States Air Force is a reason many choose to raise their right hands and sign up. Benefits include structured and guaranteed advancement, base pay and other financial incentives, and 30 days of paid leave each year. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Staff Sgt. Matthew Coleman-Foster)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Most Airmen currently serving at one point considered the benefits of service before deciding to raise their right hands.

While the considerations are many, three common categories that can often sway people toward setting off into the wild blue yonder are: advancement, pay and leave.

Advancement:

According to Master Sgt. Janelle Amador, career assistance advisor with the 50th Force Support Squadron, a critical question people ask themselves is, “What are my opportunities to advance?”

The Air Force answer to that question may surprise some with its advantages over the civilian sector.

“If you come in as an airman basic, as long as you don’t get in trouble, you will make rank through senior airman,” Amador said. “If you’re the exception to the rule and epitomize Airmanship, you have an opportunity to make Senior Airman Below the Zone six months early. That kind of guaranteed progression really doesn’t exist in the civilian sector.”

The process is similar for officers.

“If you come in with a degree you can have a guaranteed career around what your degree is in if you so desire,” Amador said. “You’re pretty much guaranteed the rank of captain. You can earn major and lieutenant colonel below the zone as well depending how well you perform.”

Once reaching the ranks for senior airman and captain, Airmen are tested and measured against their peers in the promotion process.

“After that, it’s up to you how badly you want the next rank,” Amador said. “We want and need you to make the next rank. It’s all about progression and leadership.”

Amador said the service is special in that for each new rank gained, the Air Force prepares its people free of charge for the next role through courses, on the job training and mentorship.

“We do not leave our Airmen hanging,” she said. “If we expect you to take on a supervisory role, we’re going to teach you how to be a supervisor. We’re going to send you to a $4,000 course that teaches you specifically how to be a supervisor called Airman Leadership School. This is unlike many organizations in the civilian sector where you may get a raise and then be expected to figure out the next level of leadership.”

Pay:

In addition to increased responsibilities, the next levels of leadership come with an increase in pay.

“We are basically salaried employees,” said Staff Sgt. Lee Rimell, noncommissioned officer in charge of financial management operations with the 50th Comptroller Squadron. “For someone joining the Air Force, most of the time you’re going to make more in your job with us than that same entry level job would pay on the outside when you factor in pay and leave.”

In addition to basic pay, Airmen not living in dormitories (where meals and lodging are provided free of charge), receive basic allowance for housing and basic allowance for subsistence. The rates are based off the member’s rank, location and family status.

“They use the local economy to determine your rate to ensure you actually have what you need to be able to live wherever you’re stationed,” Rimell said. “Basically, we say ‘here’s some money for doing your job, and here’s some extra money for food and for housing.’ Who else does that?”

The Air Force also gives Airmen a pay raise upon promotion and every two years if they remain at the same rank.

“It averages out to about $200 a month,” Rimell said. “However, if you get promoted your pay can jump anywhere from $300 to $1,000 per month.”

Airmen can also earn special financial considerations like a cost of living allowance, hostile fire pay, and family separation pay and dislocation allowance.

“For pretty much every major inconvenience the service may ask of you, there is financial compensation for it,” Rimell said. “Do you live in an area where goods cost more than the national average? We’ll pay you for that. Did we force you to be separated from your family? We’ll pay you for that.”

Leave

Upon entering service, Airmen begin accruing 2.5 days of paid leave per month, for a total of 30 days a year.

“There aren’t many places on the outside where immediately upon starting an entry level job you start accruing paid vacation days,” Rimell said. “Earning leave is a right, but taking it is a privilege. The nice thing about it; however, is if you schedule it around the mission, supervisors are very good about letting Airmen take leave.”

Additionally, if unable to take leave due to military necessity, Airmen may accrue up to 60 days of leave in a calendar year, accounting for days earned in the previous year.

“Another nice thing is under certain criteria you can sell leave days back to the Air Force,” Rimell said. “The Air Force will trade you cash for your leave days, so really at every turn the Air Force is trying to help take care of its people financially.”

Rimell concluded by sharing his personal outlook on advancement, pay and leave.

“Much is asked, but much is given,” he said. “The benefits of service often outweigh any challenges or hardships we may have to endure.”

Editor’s note: this is part one in a three-part series on the benefits of service not exclusive to Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado.

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