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NEWS | Feb. 20, 2013

Annual leave: Do you use or lose?

By Col. Al Miller 437th Airlift Wing vice commander

Last month, President Barack Obama signed the FY13 National Defense Authorization Act which contained a provision extending the 75-day maximum carry over leave balance for active-duty personnel for two more years. When this news broke, a collective sigh of relief was heard Air Force wide as we gained some temporary relief from the impending "use or lose" leave scheduling challenge ... at least until Sept. 30, 2015. While the additional 15 days of carry over may help prevent some of our busiest Airmen from losing annual leave, it should not be used as a convenient excuse for supervisors to deny leave or for individuals to neglect scheduling leave.

If you do research into non-military leave programs, I think you'll find our 2 ½ days accrued per month is very generous. But there is a definite reason for this; our leave system is designed to provide opportunities for military members to reconnect with loved ones and to get a break from the stressors of military service. Clearly, leave is an effective tool when we examine our own resiliency within Comprehensive Airman Fitness.

Air Force Instruction 36-3003, Military Leave Program, states "both management and members share responsibility" when scheduling leave. Commanders and supervisors must establish unit guidelines for scheduling leave and individuals must plan ahead to take it. Unfortunately, there are times when military necessity forces leave cancellation, which is in part why the President has extended the additional carry over policy. These cases, however, should be the exception and not the rule. If you are so irreplaceable in your daily duty that the mission would fail or suffer greatly in your absence, then there is a more serious problem your leadership needs to address. Military structure is not designed for one person to have all the answers and skills; there must be flexibility to allow for absence and quick replacement if need be.

Your military leave is a right; use it as necessary to increase your resiliency and often, more importantly, your family's resiliency. While moving to different locations in the military can be difficult, it also provides the potential to explore and experience new cultures and attractions. Being stationed at Joint Base Charleston is a perfect example of a great opportunity, so take full advantage of it! It's a terrible feeling to be driving away from a duty station for the last time wishing you would have spent more time enjoying the area while building lasting memories with friends and family.

As part of our core values, we willingly embrace service before self, but must also realize the military leave program is an important piece of the overall readiness puzzle. Supervisors must encourage their Airmen to make wise use of their annual leave and should make every effort to prevent leave loss. Like most things, proper planning is the key to success, so set aside time as early as possible and stick to your plan. We're always going to be busy, and there is seemingly never a "good" time to take leave. But, when it comes to your readiness, resiliency and CAF, you cannot afford to lose it.