Air Force Deployments: Overseas in the U.S. Air Force

TDY and Deployment Differences

Air Force KC-135R Refueling Unmanned Aircraft
Erik Simonsen / Getty Images

Recent studies have shown that 15-plus years of war is taking its toll on the military. The Air Force specifically is concerned about burning out its personnel with deployment to dwell rates (abroad:home) in many specialty codes (jobs) at a 1:2 ratio.

By contrast, a 1:5 ratio is more manageable for the Air Force families, as that means you spend 5 times more at home as you do deployed. The reality to this goal is not always occurring. Some deployments are a full year overseas in some jobs and the turn-around until the next deployment is much sooner than four to five years. Many airmen can build up to 15 or more deployments in a very short career time. The Air Force realizes that the burnout and shortage of personnel in certain specialty codes as well as pilots are directly related. 

Temporary Duty Assignment and Deployment Cycles

There is a difference between a TDY (Temporary Duty Assignment) and a "Deployment." On average, Air Force personnel deploy far less than soldiers, sailors, and Marines. In January 2015, the Air Force have focused on changing the way they deploy their troops a second time in less than 10 years.

A "TDY" is a temporary assignment, usually to attend a school, conference, temporarily help a unit which is undermanned, or participate in an exercise. When the mission of the TDY is complete, the airman returns to his/her permanent duty assignment.

A "Deployment" is similar to a TDY, except the member deploys to be part of a specific operation, usually a combat operation overseas. Like a TDY, when the deployment is finished, the airman returns to his/her permanent duty assignment. The Air Force deploys people to areas such as Afghanistan, Kuwait, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kosovo, and Bosnia for ongoing contingency operations.

Under the Air Force's AEF (Air Expeditionary Force) concept, the Air Force's goal is not to deploy individuals and units for more than 90 days in a year. However, the Air Force has a long way to go to meet that goal for personnel in many specific jobs. The fact is that most Air Force deployments last 179 days (+ or - 10 days). The typical TDY will last less than 90 days. Some deployments are shorter and last 60-90 days, but maybe rotated 2-3 times in a 12-18 month period reducing the deploy to dwell ratio back to 2:1 or 3:1.

Standardized Deployment Cycle to Reflect Critical Combat Needs

The Air Force's Air Expeditionary Force Next system is designed to streamline the process for deploying Airmen, keeping them with their units and standardizing dwell times—doing away the TEMPO BANDS listed below:

In addition to deploying multiple Airmen from the same unit together, the AEF Next system will move to standardize dwell ratios, or the ratio of time Airmen spend deployed versus time at home station. Most Airmen will serve in a 1-to-2 ratio; six months deployed followed by 12 months at home.

Under the new system, Airmen deploy not only with members of their home station unit, but they also will leave in more standardized time frames, which builds structure into deployments and could make it easier to operate in the AOR.

The latest change (2018) allows for Air Force personnel who deploy as individual tasking, will now deploy as teams out of CONUS. Deployment teaming will build mutual support and increase capability as a war fighting team. This will also help with resiliency during high stress operational tempo. 

The Defunct Tempo Bands System (Heavy War Needs Deployment Cycles)

In the past (2009 until 2014), Airmen deployed as individuals or small elements via "tempo bands" based on Air Force Specialty Codes. Those Airmen converged in downrange areas of responsibility from bases across the Air Force. 

The band decisions are made by matching predicted deployment demands for Air Force specialties against the number of airmen available to deploy in that specialty:

Band A. Those in Air Force jobs assigned to Band A can expect to deploy 6 months every 24 months. Some of the career fields that have already been placed in this band include fuels, paralegal, finance, and safety.

Band B. Airmen in Band B can expect to deploy 6 months every 30 months. So far, no Air Force career field has been placed in this band.

Band C. Those in Band C can expect to be deployed for 6 months every 24 months. Band C includes medical personnel (except behavioral health), supply, communications, weather, public affairs, and logistics planning.

Band D. Individuals in Band D can expect to be deployed for 6 months every 18 months. Band D includes include aerial port, vehicle operations, traffic management, vehicle management, air traffic controllers, OSI, behavioral health, command post, and civil engineering.

Band E. These folks can expect to deploy six months out of every year. Band E includes contracting, intelligence, airfield management, security forces, and Tactical Air Command and Control. While technically in Band E, special operation fields (Combat Controller and Pararescue) can expect more frequent deployments (although usually shorter in duration) for specific special operations missions.

The Tempo Band method was difficult to operate due to the high tempo of the military in general since 2001. However, as operational needs decrease, the need for a 1:2 deployment ratio will decrease to a 1:3 or perhaps the Air Force median average of 1:5 deploy to dwell ratio.