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What's in it for you? Military service offers many benefits Airmen might not know about

Benefits afforded to members of the Air Force Reserve range in the many. For more information on these benefits, visit www.302aw.afrc.af.mil for more information. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Staff Sgt. Stephen J. Collier)

Benefits afforded to members of the Air Force Reserve range in the many. For more information on these benefits, visit www.302aw.afrc.af.mil for more information. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Staff Sgt. Stephen J. Collier)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- After agreeing to a life-long commitment, whether it be a job, an educational goal or even the Air Force Reserve, have you ever asked yourself: what's in it for me?

Citizen Airmen, those volunteers that make up the Air Force Reserve, have raised their right hands time and time again in service to their country. And everyone has a different reason. From tuition assistance at their local college or university to the many travel opportunities afforded to members as part of their service, all Reservists deserve to "get something" out of their military commitment.

Fortunately, just by being an Air Force Reservist doors can open to many benefits some didn't even know were out there. And those benefits aren't in place for the uniformed member alone; many benefits are available or were created specifically to support family members. In fact, some benefits are designed exclusively for the Reservist's loved ones. Benefits cannot make up for all the sacrifices Airmen have and continue to make in the name of defense, but they are there to help with common problems and concerns others have encountered in the past. It's important to know what's available.

Relieving the 'pressure'


The duties of Reserve life can create undo pressure on a Reservist's family life. Time away for training, deployments overseas and even annual tour requirements can make a difficult situation even tougher. The Air Force Reserve recognizes the added stress military service can bring to the family unit and has developed programs to help those in need. Many of these programs are intended to be used by non-servicemembers.

The Airman and Family Readiness Center is a one-stop resource and information center designed to assist servicemembers and their families with many of the challenges encountered while serving in the military. Their assistance, sometimes congressionally mandated, begins from the time a Reservist is headed to Peterson to when they depart the base. But where support becomes more crucial is when an Airman deploys. The Airman and Family Readiness Center, again, is ready to assist them and their loved ones.

"What we are trying to do with family readiness is help prepare the entire family for a deployment," said Master Sgt. Christina Fornander, a consultant with Airman and Family Readiness Center. "We take care of the family while they are deployed and assist them with the hardest phase of deployment: bringing that military member back and reintegrating them with the family."

But as greater challenges and demands are put upon servicemembers and their families, Family Readiness also evolves and grows to meet new needs.

"We have a new program in the Reserve, known as the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program. It's designed to focus on all aspects of deployment and really try to mitigate the most obvious problem: the military member being separated from their family and how to make it a healthier situation for them in each phase," Sergeant Fornander said.

In addition to deployment assistance, the Airman and Family Readiness Center also offers dozens of other programs to assist Airmen, whether the member is single or married and with or without children. One of the most time-saving programs they offer is called "Information and Referral." This program helps Airmen or their family members find information about companies or services near them. "A lot of people don't realize they could just ask a question and be directed to three or four different agencies to help them find the solution they want," Sergeant Fornander said.

Healthy living

Other benefits afforded Air Force Reservists are put in place to keep them healthy and ready to deploy. Each year, Airmen must pass a physical examination to gauge their overall health. This is done free of charge and can save a trip to the doctor's office. Along with the medical physical, a free dental checkup is provided every third year to the military member, ensuring they have no dental issues that could become serious if not treated as well as to keep Airmen deployment ready. Medical records also ensure flu shots and immunizations are current and given in a timely manner and are also free of charge.

Reservists also have the opportunity to register for the Department of Defense-sponsored TRICARE Reserve Select, a premium-based health plan. Depending on a family members' enrollment and eligibility status, different programs are made available under the TRICARE plan. But oftentimes, the premiums tend to be less than a private insurance company would charge, according to the Web site www.tricare.mil

Personal bennies

Many different recreational and travel opportunities are available to Reservists and their families, many times at discounted prices or even for free. Military lodges throughout the world offer discounted rates for members and their dependents. Information, tickets and tours at Peterson offer deals to amusement parks and sporting events once you arrive at your destination. Learn more about these at www.21fss.com.  

There are also discounted ski passes available through Outdoor Recreation, allowing one to take advantage of Colorado's pristine winter activities at reduced cost. Reservists can also rent ski and snowboard accessories, as well as other outdoor equipment, through Outdoor Recreation. Reservists and their dependents also have access to shopping at the commissary and base exchange. Don't forget about a base's golf course and fitness center. Being an Air Force Reservist requires a lot of sacrifice. But it's important for military members to explore their benefits and take advantage of what's available to them.

Back-2-School

While Reservists are afforded the benefits of recreational and medical support from discounted fees to free access, one of the oldest and largest benefits to military members today is access to quality education at little to no cost. Since the creation of the first major piece of educational legislation in 1948, the military has "doubled down" on highly-educated enlisted men and women as well as officers, setting the stage for a superior 21st-Century fighting force.

The most famous and well-known benefit is the Montgomery GI Bill, enacted after debates took place between President Franklin Roosevelt and the Senate. The bill's overwhelming support eventually led to more than 7 million World War II veterans earning a higher education or technical degree. Since then, the program has been revamped as the Department of Veterans' Affairs meets the needs of today's servicemembers.

In 2008, the largest overhaul of the GI Bill program took place. Known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, then-President George W. Bush signed into law the sweeping changes. Most notably, the Post-9/11 GI Bill pays 100 percent of tuition fees for a four year, undergraduate degree program to servicemembers who have served at least three years on Active Duty after Sept. 11, 2001. The Bill also pays up to $1,000 of books and fees with the largest, singular benefit being the addition of a housing allowance set to E-5 with dependent rate. This can allow veterans to focus more on school and less on earning a living while pursing their education. Also, benefits under the 9/11 GI Bill can be transferred to a Reservist's dependent, if the member qualifies. Learn more about transferring this benefit at http://www.defense.gov/home/features/2009/0409_gibill/.  

"Getting your degree benefits you because it shows you are motivated to advance," Marie Encinias, 302nd Airlift Wing education office specialist said. "With your military career, it can help you progress through higher ranks. Of course, with your civilian career, having a bachelor's or master's degree can get you better job."

While the GI Bill is a smart way for Reservists to advance their education, what happens if you don't qualify for any or all of what the GI Bill has the offer? Enter tuition assistance. Ms. Encinias pointed out the most common educational benefits used by members of the 302nd AW was tuition assistance.

"Since 1997, when tuition assistance was first introduced, the program has come a long way," she said. "Back then, the Air Force would only pay up to 75 percent of your costs and you didn't have a choice of school. But now, TA covers 100 percent of your tuition costs for an undergraduate or graduate degree program at the school of your choosing."

Members can sign up for tuition assistance through the education office. According to Ms. Encinias, the member will need to register with their school, apply for tuition assistance through the Air Force Portal, under the "Air Force Virtual Education Center." The Reservist will have to pay for the class or classes up front or ask for a deferral from their school. Once the member satisfactorily passes their class with a "C" or above grade average, they can drop their course transcript off at the education office for processing. Usually the member will be reimbursed in approximately two weeks.

While both the GI Bill and tuition assistance are great programs to help Reservists with their higher education, they cannot be used in conjunction of the same class. The member can use both forms of assistance to pay for separate courses.

What about the monies?

Of course, just being a Reservist in general also has some financial benefits. From an inexpensive life insurance policy to free financial planning, service in the Air Force Reserve can offer "perks" most private companies would be envious to provide their employees. How about help with writing your will? That can go for around $400 in downtown Colorado Springs, according to the 21st Space Wing legal office. That fee not only includes the $250 cost of the will, but the $150 in legal fees just for a visitation.

But using Air Force legal resources can help in other areas. Are you about to deploy? Are you going on extended orders? Then maybe you might require a power of attorney to allow a loved one or friend to look after your finances or estate. Without the Reserve, that could run you at least $50. Perhaps you need a medical power of attorney? Get ready to dig $75 out of your pocket.

Looking after your well being doesn't stop at legal documents. What about if the unthinkable happened to you, whether in combat or driving home from work? Life insurance helps make up the gap of your income for your loved ones if you passed away or were killed. Through the VA, members can take advantage of the Servicemember's Group Life Insurance program. Members are primarily signed up for SGLI upon entering the Air Force, but can elect to change the level of their coverage or drop it entirely later on. According to the VA's Web site, www.insurance.va.gov, SGLI coverage is available in $50,000 increments with a maximum amount of $400,000. Members interested in learning more can contact the 302nd Mission Support Flight's personnel section at (719) 556-4673.

How about saving for your retirement? Maybe the Thrift Savings Plan is for you. Known simply as 'TSP,' the Thrift Savings Plan was enacted by Congress in 1986 as part of the Federal Employees' Retirement System Act with additional legislation passed in 2000 that opened the program to members of the military. Under TSP, according to their Web site at www.tsp.gov, a member of the Reserve can contribute one to 100 percent of their basic pay to the program. But the member's annual total of tax-deferred contributions can't exceed $16,500, the set amount for 2010 by the Internal Revenue Service. Members can also withdrawal their contributions before retirement, but they can expect to pay additional taxes and possible withdrawal fees.

With these different benefits, members should know how to properly organize them to maximize their retirement. The Airman and Family Readiness Center can help Reservists build a solid financial plan to best fit their financial goals with on-site accredited counselors.

"Our counselors can sit down and conduct one-on-one assessments of how someone is doing [financially] and provide education on things they may want to consider," Sergeant Fornander said. "The only thing we can't do is act like brokers; we can't tell people where to put their money, just educate them on the things they can do to improve their situation."

Members can easily take it for granted, but the Air Force Reserve compensates them for their service with a pay check commensurate of their rank and time in service. For all the duty a Reservist provides, a number of order types can be assigned to ensure the member is paid for the services they render. The Air Force Reserve knows the sacrifices all Airmen make in the name of national defense, and it takes care of those who defend the country.

Being an Air Force Reservist requires a certain amount of sacrifice from the member, their family and, sometimes, their civilian employer. Reservists can take advantage of the many benefits afforded them for their service and should explore and take advantage of those benefits being offered.