Is being in the Air Force worth it? You’ll learn some of the benefits of joining the Air Force, as well as some of it’s disadvantages in this Air Force pros and cons list.
Going beyond the common pros and cons of joining the Air Force, like your able to go to school for free using the post 911 GI Bill, free healthcare is provided, the military owns you, and the Air Force has a lot of rules. This Air Force pros and cons list will dive deeper into the why of each pro and con and what that could mean for you as a potential airman.
Air Force Pros
The Money Is Good – When you think about Air Force money, yes it’s true you don’t start out making a lot in the lower ranks but it increases with each rank. Plus, military members get a pay raise every year typically around 1% to adjust for inflation.
Even as a single Airman First Class (E-3), with all the benefits that are included like free healthcare, free dorm housing, free dining facility food, a yearly military clothing allowance, it all adds up when you break it down.
Airmen begin to see higher dollar amounts in their check when things like BAH (housing allowance) and BAS (food allowance) get thrown into the picture. If you’ll be an airman who is married you’ll see these tax free allowances at your first duty station depending if you live on base housing or off base. Living on base housing means you’d only receive BAS (food allowance), living off base expect to receive both BAH and BAS.
When you start to deploy, additional benefits get added to your paycheck. Some of the potential benefits you could see are hazard duty pay, hardship living pay, if you have a spouse or child then family separation pay is received. Plus, all the money earned overseas on deployments is tax-free.
I came back from my first deployment as a single Airman First Class (E-3) with $20,000 sitting in the bank, so yes the money is good.
Related article: How Much Money Can You Make On A Deployment
You Can Live In Another Country – One of the other benefits of joining the Air Force is the Air Force has many overseas bases throughout many different countries. If you are someone who dreams of living in another country and experiencing life outside of the United States, know that it’s a realistic goal to get stationed overseas. When you get stationed overseas or “OCONUS” the easier it is to remain overseas calling many different countries home. Simply going from one overseas duty station to another.
20% of the active duty Air Force is stationed at an overseas base. That’s roughly 64,000 enlisted airmen and officers.
I personally know other airmen who were stationed in Italy, Guam, Japan, Germany, England, and Korea. One of the benefits of joining the Air Force is it has a large overseas presence.
Getting stationed overseas has its benefits. Many overseas airmen receive COLA which is a cost of living allowance. COLA is offered at OCONUS locations to offset the cost of overseas prices on non-household goods and services. Not every base will receive COLA though and the payout amount is determined by your rank, years of service, and number of dependants if any.
Besides COLA, another potential allowance is OHA (overseas housing allowance). If military base housing isn’t offered or full, an overseas housing allowance will be granted to live off base in another country. Where else do you get paid to live in another country?
Generous Amounts Of Days Off – Going through other Air Force pros and cons, you might have heard the Air Force offers 30 days paid leave per year. While this is true, there are many more related benefits than simply that, like having national holidays off and many other non-chargeable leave days.
Depending on your Air Force Specialty Code (Air Force job) you will have most national holidays off. You will see many extended 3 or 4 day weekends throughout the year and it’s common to be off the last week of the year of the holiday season.
Plus, some of the non-chargeable leave days the Air Force offers are:
- 14 days of R&R after coming back from a deployment.
- Up to 2 weeks in the recruiter assistance program.
- Up to 84 days of maternity leave for women.
- House hunting days when PSCing to new duty station.
- Convalescent leave for a wide variety of reasons and lengths.
As stated before, for chargeable leave you will accumulate 30 days paid leave each year. That’s receiving 2.5 days per month every month while on active duty. Taking an entire 30 days of leave off is sometimes referred to as a “dirty 30”.
Be sure to use your days because you can lose them, a use or lose policy is put in effect. Up to 60 days of leave can be carried over and any excess days not used after October 1st will be lost.
TDY Trips To Las Vegas – Nellis Air Force base in Las Vegas routinely has military exercises and war games to hone military skills. These exercises bring in many airmen and aircraft from other bases to accomplish the training. So numerous types of Air Force jobs are tasked with taking a TDY (temporary duty assignment) to Las Vegas in order to support the exercise.
A TDY to Nellis Air Force Base typically ranges from a hand full of days on up to a few weeks. Plus, there are always TDY’s going to Vegas throughout the year.
So if you’ve ever wanted to go to Las Vegas, the military will fly you there, give you lodging, a stipend for food, and pay you to work. After your work shift is over you are free to enjoy everything that Vegas has to offer.
For Air Force pros and cons, a TDY to Vegas can go either way, depending on if you lose your money gambling at the casino. Besides Las Vegas, the Air Force has many other TDY destinations as well if Vegas isn’t for you.
Certain Air Force jobs Transfer Into High Paying Civilian Jobs – Many Air Force jobs are on the technical side, which can provide very sought after skills in the civilian world after the military. Air Force careers related to IT like cyber surity or even non-computer related jobs like air traffic control can be very lucrative with military experience.
You can gain the skills necessary through serving the military by letting the Air Force pay for you to receive job-specific certificates that are also used in the civilian sector. After your military service is complete, you as a fully qualified and trained airman can easily transfer to the high paying civilian sector.
If you enlisted in the Air Force without a college degree in the air traffic control career field 1C1X1, as a fully qualified senior airman you can expect to make a yearly base pay around $30,000. However, after getting out of the military and transitioning your skills to the civilian side of air traffic control your salary can drastically change. In 2018 the median annual wage for civilian air traffic controllers was $124,540.
Spending one term of service in the Air Force to gain the skills necessary to earn a high paying civilian job is a great life choice.
If money isn’t your driving factor and you still want a good career, there are other Air Force jobs that transfer to civilian life. Security forces, Air Force firefighters, EOD, plus many others all directly translate into their civilian world counterpart.
Air Force Cons
Can’t Avoid School – If you are considering joining the Air Force because you don’t want to go to school yet still want a good job, the Air Force isn’t the answer. Even in the Air Force, it is expected of you to go to school and pursue a college degree.
Whether that be a Community College of the Air Force degree or another school like American Military University which is an online school. Either way, it is expected of you to pursue self-improvement towards education and it’s needed to receive a good EPR (enlisted performance report).
Beyond the traditional sense of school, as you gain rank in the Air Force you will get sent to military school houses for things like ALS (airman leadership school), or to gain additional skills related to you AFSC (Air Force specialty code), or even to cross-train and learn a different job.
Even enlisted promotion to Staff Sergeant and above require you to study and pass tests in order to make rank. It is essential to come prepared having studied general Air Force material and job-related material. So there is no avoiding receiving an education in the Air Force.
Related article: How Air Force Promotions Work For Active Duty And Reserve
Hurry Up And Wait – Diving further into the cons of these Air Force pros and cons is something you’ll hear regularly in the military. “Hurry up and wait” and “if you ain’t early you’re late”.
Basically, it is expected of you to be early for everything while enlisted in the military. It’s common to arrive 15 minutes early to everything, and sometimes even 15 minutes early to being 15 minutes early. Sounds crazy, right? With being so punctual to functions and appointments there becomes a lot of waiting. Hence “hurry up and wait”.
Get used to it, there is no avoiding the waiting game because if you are late there are potential repercussions like being written up or getting addition duties from a supervisor.
Being early is a part of the military discipline. So if you are someone who is chronically late to anything and everything, be prepared to become very familiar with the phrases “hurry up and wait” and “if you ain’t early you’re late”.
One Airman’s Screw Up Can Turn Into Your Punishment – To explain this Air Force con it’s easiest to share my personal stories to elaborate and get the point across.
When an airman I worked with got pulled over for drunk driving, our squadron commander was very displeased. This squadron commander took a stripe from the drunk driving airman lowering him a rank.
However, in the whole ordeal, the entire squadron of a few hundred people was called into formation at 5am on a Saturday for a briefing, a speech about drunk driving due to his misconduct. One unlucky airman fainted standing in formation, and the rest of us had our weekend disrupted because of one drunk driving airman.
In another instance, while I was deployed in the Middle East on a joint base, a drunk British soldier had the bright idea to go skinny dipping in the host nations pool. From that moment forward the pool was deemed off limits to everyone. Now I only caught a glimpse of that pool once in passing, but still. That drunk British soldier ruined any notion of beating the heat. It only takes one person to ruin it for everyone.
The Air Force Is Understaffed – Having the total force understaffed presents its fair share of problems. Since the 2014 sequestration which resulted in many skilled airmen leaving the service, the Air Force has had issues of low morale, high stress, and burnout in some career fields.
However, not every AFSC career field runs into this understaffing issue. If you do find yourself in an Air Force job that is understaffed, for example, maintainers around the flight line. Expect to work longer hours for the same amount of pay as other airmen. There is no overtime pay in the military, every rank is on a set pay rate.
You could find yourself working 12 hour shifts and have a friend in a properly staffed Air Force career field who only works 8 hours a day. If both of you are the same rank and receive the same benefits, then each of you receive the same amount of pay despite the additional hours worked.
Military manning levels and understaffing is a current issue, as well as a future problem for years to come. Retention rates among 5 level journeyman and 7 level craftsman, which are the backbone of the enlisted Air Force, remain low.
To Wrap It Up
There are plenty of things to like and dislike about the military, plus opinions change from person to person. So what do your Air Force pros and cons list have, more pros or more cons?
Air Force Veteran
Corey is an Air Force veteran and the lead writer at Basic to Blues. He refueled fighter jets as a young airman and deployed twice to the Middle East. Now Corey can be found hiking in the Pacific Northwest.
Who the hell… POL!