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Unit commanders get more control of leave program

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (Feb. 14, 2003) -- A recent policy change returns the authority to unit commanders to approve permissive temporary duty and terminal leave of more than 90 days.

The Air Force's current instruction on military leave requires members wanting a combination of permissive TDY and terminal leave of more than 90 days to seek approval at group or wing level. It is that portion of Air Force Instruction 36-3003 that will be modified, said Master Sgt. Donald Taylor, Air Force leave program manager at the Air Force Personnel Center here.

"Instead of pushing approval paperwork up to the wing commander," Taylor said, "this policy change puts that approval authority back down to the unit commander."

Permissive TDY, often granted in conjunction with terminal leave, is leave granted at the discretion of a commander to retiring airman and some separating airmen to look for a new home or job, Taylor said. Terminal leave is simply a period of regular leave that ends on the same day as a person's separation or retirement date.

The current policy will not actually be reworded to reflect the change. Instead, Taylor explained, portions of the current instruction will be deleted.

"The leave program has always been the unit commander's responsibility," Taylor said. "By taking those sections out of the AFI, it puts the entire program back on the unit commander, where we feel it should be."

The change is necessary because an increasing number of Air Force people are reaching retirement or separation dates with large amounts of accrued leave. That can happen when individuals are sent on long deployments where taking leave is not possible, Taylor said. They return from such a deployment and expect to take all their leave, along with some permissive TDY, before leaving the military.

However, when airmen accrue significant leave by not taking it as it is given to them, it constitutes a misuse of the benefits Congress has given to servicemembers, he said.

"Congress' intent is for people to use leave as they accrue it," Taylor said. "If you look at the AFI, it highly recommends that everybody take at least a 14-day leave period for rest and relaxation each year. Those other 16 days should be taken intermittently throughout the year as needed. We shouldn't have people with 30 or 60 or 90 days on the books, but we do."

Airmen are normally permitted to have up to 60 days of leave "on the books" at the end of each fiscal year -- Sept. 30. People with more than 60 days of leave accrued typically lose those extra days on Oct. 1.

Exceptions to that policy include people who had been directly supporting contingency operations. In these cases, they may apply for special leave accrual to restore up to 90 days of accrued leave. Any leave approved in excess of 60 days under this program must be taken within three fiscal years.

Another option for people approaching separation or retirement dates with more leave than they will be able to take is to sell back leave, Taylor said. But they may sell only a total of 60 days of leave back to the government during their career.