The Air Force is encouraging airmen and guardians to take a vacation by allowing them to accrue additional time off in the next two months, then spend those days anytime in the next three years.

Over the last 18 months, the coronavirus pandemic wrecked travel and other personal plans for many who — out of caution or necessity — opted to stay home and continue working. Now the military wants to give people more opportunities to take a break after a stressful and unusual year.

“Rest and recuperation are vital to morale, unit and personal performance, and overall motivation for airmen and guardians,” acting Air Force Secretary John Roth said in a July 21 memo. “The [Department of the Air Force] recognizes the importance to provide opportunities for its service members to use their earned leave in the year it was earned and provide respite from the work environment.”

Active-duty airmen and guardians may accrue 60 to 120 days of leave by the end of September, and spend it by Sept. 30, 2024. If a service member was already allowed to build up more than 60 days of leave, this new flexibility will not apply to them, Roth said.

The policy also applies to Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve members who would roll over leave from one active-duty tour to the next. They can accrue up to 120 days of leave by Sept. 30 and carry that balance until September 2024 as well.

Airmen and guardians typically have until the end of a fiscal year to use or lose as many as 60 days off. But the Air Force wanted to offer a few years’ worth of leeway so leave wouldn’t expire while travel restrictions are still in place, or while job requirements could keep someone from taking time off in the remaining two months of fiscal 2021.

DOD let service secretaries craft their own updates to the special leave accrual policy first set in April 2020, and Roth’s change goes further than Pentagon officials were mulling earlier this summer.

The Air Force and Space Force’s decision is not limited to service members in certain units or areas with travel restrictions, such as Japan and Europe, and allows troops to carry over leave for one year longer than previously allowed under pandemic-era rules.

“It is important members manage their leave balances throughout the year,” Roth said. “Commanders will continue to encourage and provide members with opportunities to use leave in the year it is earned.”

The Air Force said it will release more details on the issue later.

Rachel Cohen joined Air Force Times as senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in Air Force Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), the Washington Post, and others.

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