It’s not uncommon for many Guard and Reserve members travel long distances to perform their drill duty, or Inactive Duty Training (IDT). I counted license plates from about 7 neighboring states at my last drill. I have friends in different units who tell me there are some members who regularly fly to and from their monthly drills. Talk about dedication!
The good news is if you live outside the normal commuting distance, your unit should provide Lodging-in-Kind, and may even reimburse you for your travel expenses (up to a certain amount). So don’t let the cost of travel be a reason no to join the Guard or Reserves. However, the rules here are very broad, and are not standardized between the services. Reimbursements may even depend on your pay grade or your AFSC or MOS. Let’s take a deeper look at what’s available.
Reserve IDT Travel Reimbursements
For the purposes of this article, we will separate the Guard and Reserves because the Reserves follow a national standard, while the rules for Guard units vary by state. This first section will cover the Reserves.
Reserve IDT travel reimbursements: The service secretary for each branch of the Reserves is allowed to authorize travel reimbursements for members who live more than 150 miles from their base. However, not all branches currently reimburse Reserve members for travel. Here are some basic rules of thumb (but be sure to verify with your unit, as some units may have unique rules):
US Air Force Reserves: According to the Air Force Reserve Command, IDT Travel Reimbursement is available to Airmen in select DAFSCs who live more than 150 miles from their duty location. Travel Reimbursement will not exceed $500.00 per IDT round trip travel. Contact your unit for additional information. Source. (last updated FY 2019)
US Army Reserves: The USAR will pay up to $300 in travel expenses to attend Battle Assembly (drill). This is in addition to Lodging-in-Kind. Previous rules limited this to select MOSs and ranks. However, I have heard these limitations were removed and reimbursements are now available to all ranks and job codes. However, I have not been able to find this in writing. I will update this when I can find a reference. (last updated FY 2015)
USMC Reserves: Travel reimbursement open to select grades and MOS’s. When Commercial transportation is used, Reimbursement is authorized for the actual cost of transportation incurred between the member’s home and assigned RTC, not to exceed 300 dollars. When personally owned conveyance (POC) is used, reimbursement is authorized for traveled mileage for the official distance to and from the IDT location as per Ref A Paragraph U2600 (other mileage rate). Tolls, parking fees, and other necessary expenses incurred incident to POC travel are reimbursable. Reimbursement is limited to eleven (11) round trips per marine per fiscal year. Source. (last updated FY 2015)
US Navy Reserves: No travel reimbursement for (IDT). Reserve Component members, regardless of paygrade, will not be paid to travel to their normal drill site per reference (e) Appendix 0, paragraph T4 045, which states, “A Reserve Component member commits an obligation to participate in a finite number of scheduled training periods annually. Inherent to this obligation is the travel between the member’s home and the location at which the member normally performs drills. The member receives no reimbursement for that travel.” Unit COs will ensure all cross assigned unit members meet and comply with reference (e). Source. (last updated FY 2014).
US Coast Guard: The following excerpt is from USCG Reserve Policy Manual COMDTINST M1001.28B.
Travel While on Inactive Duty. Members are not authorized to receive reimbursement for travel between their place of residence and their normal drill site when under inactive duty orders.
- Commands must establish normal drill sites that are validated by the District RFRS staff. If the normal drill site is different than the unit’s location, the District RFRS staff must be notified by the member’s command and noted along with the member’s PAL assignment. This is necessary to provide a legal means of determining eligibility for medical and other entitlements when members travel from their homes to the normal drill site, and for determining entitlements associated with travel between the normal drill site and the unit.
- Reservists who are ordered to locations other than their normal drill site must be placed on Temporary Duty (TDY) orders and receive entitlements in accordance with U4000 of reference (n), The Joint Federal Travel Regulations (JFTR). TDY orders are normally issued and funded by the member’s assigned unit, with the exception of duty such as RMPs performed for RSWE participation or medical readiness, which may be issued and funded by the District RFRS staff’s reserve appropriations manager. TDY orders shall specify the member’s normal drill site. When the member travels directly from home to the TDY station, reimbursement is limited to the lesser entitlement from either the member’s home or the normal drill site to the point at which TDY inactive duty is performed.
National Guard IDT Travel Reimbursements
The National Guard is a completely different beast when it comes to determining whether IDT travel reimbursements are available. The short answer is: ask your unit.
I know that sounds like a cop-out, but it’s the easiest way to determine the availability of travel funds. Because Guard members work for their respective state, there may be differing policies. I have seen on some forums that some units offer travel reimbursements, but I’ve heard from many individuals that it is not available at their units. Please let me know if you have any specific information or references and I will update the site accordingly.
No Reimbursements? Deduct Your Travel Expenses
Even if you aren’t able to receive a reimbursement for your travel expenses, you may be eligible claim mileage and other travel expenses on your taxes if you have to travel more than 100 miles for drill duty. You can also claim half the cost of your meals on your taxes. Those benefits don’t negate the cost of travel, but it certainly helps when you file your taxes.
What Type of Travel is Covered
Lodging. If you live outside the normal commuting distance, your unit will usually provide Lodging-in-Kind. They will either put you up in base lodging (if available), or pay for a hotel room in town. You may or may not be required to share a room, depending on your unit, your rank, and room availability. I’m not going to try and provide a standard set of rules for this, as they vary by unit.
However, most units only cover lodging for certain days, usually the night before training (if you live outside the commuting area), and after the first drill day. They may only cover one night of lodging if you live within a certain distance. They usually do not provide Lodging-in-Kind for the second day of a two day drill, or for your return trip.
If you need lodging outside of the days that are normally covered, you will need to work it out with your unit or claim a tax deduction the following year. Save your receipts!
Transportation: There are many types of transportation that qualify, including planes, trains, and automobiles. Rental cars are not normally authorized. Mileage is typically charged at the standard IRS rate, which is $0.575 per mile in 2015. Servicemembers can also claim incidental expenses such as parking, tolls, and related travel expenses.
When in Doubt, Go to the Source
Standard disclaimer – this is a topic that gets complicated quickly. Each branch has different rules, there are different rules for Guard and Reserves, and there are even different rules within certain branches, depending on your unit, AFSC/Rating/MOS, pay grade, etc.
The best place to find specific answers for your situation is through your unit. Your recruiter will be able to help you if you are considering joining a unit. Otherwise, contact the finance or travel department.
US Code. Here is the official code as written in 37 U.S. Code § 478a – Travel and transportation allowances: inactive duty training outside of normal commuting distances.
Note: Special thanks to LT. Josué Román, USCG, for sending the information on Coast Guard travel while on inactive duty.