Making the Most of Your Military Leave - Military Life - Military Families (2023)

You gotta be kidding?!? I can’t use my military leave to go hunting?!?

The first weekend of September is usually opening day for dove hunting, and something that I had planned for all that year. Some buddies of mine and I set about all summer planning fields, practicing shooting clay pigeons, and eagerly anticipated that first morning to reap the rewards.

Come that Friday afternoon before the big day, one of the guys in our office wandered over and said that I needed to come in the next day because we were standing up a watch. Dumbstruck, I protested and began explaining my hunting scheme to this mouth breather, who then muttered that I didn’t have leave put in and my number was up. Duty first, I know, I know… Thinking about it all day on Saturday really made me sore.

While doing absolutely nothing, once again, I realized that if only I would have planned ahead and put in leave for that day instead of chancing it, I’d be out there reaping my hunting rewards.

Leave is one of the great things earned by every service member, and you definitely work hard for those 30 days. Compared with many civilian jobs that offer a standard 14-21 days vacation — usually only after working at the job for a certain amount of time. Yep, the military smokes the competition with the allocated time off. Plus, you can carry over unused days from one year to the next — up to 60 days accrued — something practically unheard of in the civilian world.

In fact, ask around the next time you go home — ask your hometown buddies how much vacation time they get. You likely will hear the usual two weeks, — and while some of those are paid vacation days, others are allowed time off, but not with pay! No work, no pay!

Plan Ahead

In the military, you get a great amount of time off in your paid “vacation” time, but how to spend that time and how to maneuver for that time can be tricky Of course, you can learn from my mistake and understand that the key is to plan ahead to get the most out of something — and leave is no different. Think like an experienced E7 when it comes to planning, and not like an inexperienced E1 who can’t plan well enough to get out of the rain, much less a cross country movement coupled with link up times and priorities.

The first thing you must decide is not only where do you want to be on leave, but when. Visiting home is always good, but when would the people you want to see be around? Is there a better time to see those folks or does it matter? If you like to go places other than back home, when is a good time to do what you want to do it? Snow skiing early in the season is iffy, but late winter / early spring is great. Likewise, going to the beach is wonderful in the heat of the summer, but do you really want to deal with the crowds and pay the higher prices for peak season? Can you switch the dates around to a low season to save money?

Maximize Time and Save Money

Speaking of saving money, think seriously about that for a minute. Low season prices are often significantly lower than your traditional peak times for flights, hotel rooms and other vacation must-haves. Flying during the week is usually a huge savings as well as booking those rooms other than during a peak time.

Seeing New Orleans is a very expensive endeavor during Mardi Gras, but two weeks after and you can save a bundle. Same goes for hitting the slopes, as you can save a bucket of money by not going during a traditional three-day weekend or Christmas time, and getting cut-rate deals on lift tickets and rooms (and it never hurts to see if the place you are going offers a military discount!). The beach will rake you over the coals on a 4th of July weekend, but if you can go after most kids are in school in September, things can be downright cheap.

Not only can you save money by going during off-season times, but you may be able to take leave easier if you do. Everyone wants to go home for Christmas and Thanksgiving, but if your family and friends are flexible, try to go home either a few weeks before or after major holidays — that way you can have a better chance of getting your leave approved, and save some of those dollars along the way.

Plus, an old-timer’s trick is to never take leave during Christmas or Thanksgiving, since training holidays are usually given and you can maximize your days of leave by not burning days unnecessarily!

Get it in Writing

Keep in mind that your leave is dependent upon getting your boss’s signature, and planning ahead is imperative. Block leave is good if your unit will do that, as everyone, pretty much, has the opportunity to plan well ahead for that segment of time. Making reservations and having your family plan for your arrival really works out well.

However, if your unit doesn’t do this, you must look to the boss to see when would work best with your unit’s training or deployment schedule. Obviously, looking to go on leave during a major deployment train-up is just bad juju. Ask ahead of time when would work best, if you can do this in an email, and work your leave from there. If you are the first one in with your leave, because you planned it out, then your success for getting it approved is significantly higher. Everyone has an important job, but if you get ahead of the demand for a set of dates, your chances will be much higher than the last-minute guy. So don’t wait long to try and get your leave through.

Emergency leave is just that, an emergency, and should be treated as just that. Just because you want to meet someone across the country after meeting online, your NCOIC probably won’t understand your newfound “emergency” is to meet Tammy at Panama City Beach. Last-minute coordination can work, but just be prepared for disappointment.

All good things take time, and executing a well-thought out leave plan is no exception. If you can think out your plan far enough out, run the dates by your boss and put your leave plan in his head early. Next, lock in those dates and then you can start buying tickets, sunscreen and saving some dollars.

BUT — and this is very important: DO NOT BUY A TICKET UNTIL YOU GET YOUR SIGNED LEAVE FORM BACK!!! Countless airline tickets have been burned by those who don’t heed this advice. Get the form back, read it carefully, re-read it to confirm the dates and then and only then, purchase those tickets.

Manage Your Time

Managing your leave time should also be a consideration. Emergencies do happen and you see them all the time. One never knows when a family member will need you. Things do happen, and having some days put away in reserve always helps out.

PCSing from one side of the country to another, by regulation, gives you enough time to get from point A to point B, but not much else. Saving up some days for your inevitable PCS to extend your trip to do some things you want to do along the way is a great plan. If you can, keep 30 days on the books so that when you have the opportunity, you may be able to make that trip a little more comfortable and stop along the way to see the sights and enjoy some family fun.

As with my cancelled hunting trip, you learn you must prioritize what you want to do and where you want to go. Some decisions are easier to make than others, but keep in mind that to get those dates you really want — to include that weekend six months from now — you gotta lock in your leave. Look at when you want to go, when your boss will let you off, how much money you have to spend and determine if this is the right time to burn some leave.

By planning ahead, you can make your military leave easier, cheaper and more enjoyable.

After all, Tammy, the slopes and maybe some doves are waiting for you!

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Tags: hunting seasonMilitary Discountsmilitary leave

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