PCS, TDY and DeploymentsUpdated: November 4, 2022
There are several different types of military orders one can receive. They directly affect the service member’s duty location, the duration of that duty and how the service member is to be paid. These orders include Permanent Change of Station (PCS), Temporary Duty (TDY, TAD or other designation depending on the branch of service), and Deployments.
These three separate types of orders are not interchangeable. Depending on the nature of your military service, the orders may have specific implications about time served, special duty pay, per diem pay, and other compensation.
Temporary Duty Orders
What are Temporary Duty Orders? The Navy defines Temporary Duty Orders as, “duty at one or more locations, away from the permanent duty station (PDS), under an order, providing for further assignment or pending further assignment, to return to the old PDS or to proceed to a new PDS.”
Different Acronyms for The Same General Purpose: TDY Orders Across The Services
The Navy has Temporary Duty orders and Temporary Additional Duty orders. Official communications from the Navy official site refer to TAD as the Navy version of TDY.
Temporary Duty orders are known as TDY orders in the Air Force and the United States Army. The Army has other categories similar to TDY orders. Temporary Change of Station (TCS) orders authorize duty in a similar way to TDY orders.
The United States Marine Corps also uses TDY, but includes something called Long-Term TDY for orders authorizing duty at another location for longer than 30 days.
TDY Orders and Their Variants Are Subject to Regulation Changes
The basic distinguishing factor about TDY orders and their variants (TCS, TAD, etc.) is that these orders are designed to authorize duty in a location away from the service member’s duty station or assignment on a temporary basis.
TDY orders are required because Department of Defense regulations authorizing travel pay, per diem, and other expenses must be justified by official military orders to a specific location for a specific purpose. The documentation of the duty authorization, related expenses, and the results of the duty are required as a typical part of the process.
All other details are subject to change by government regulations. This includes the duration of authorized TDY travel and duty, the amount of travel pay or other money permitted to the service member, and how lodging and transportation are handled during the period of duty.
Do a Google search on the phrase “TDY rules” and you will find a staggering amount of information. Some old and outdated data, but some new and featuring changes or adjustments to areas mentioned above.
What TDY, TAD, and TCS Orders Are Used For
There are hundreds of examples of typical use of Temporary Duty orders. TDY status is used for professional military education such as Airman Leadership School or Navy Chief Petty Officer training. It may also be used as a regular part of military duty where frequent travel is required.
For example, pilots flying missions from a stateside base to duty in an overseas location may require TDY orders. Emergency medical evacuation teams sent to an operating location away from the military member’s assignment could also require the use of TDY orders.
TDY status may be required even when working in the same basic geographic area as the military member’s home base. If there is duty required at another base, TDY orders may be needed to justify lodging or meal requirements associated with that duty, where applicable.
TDY or TAD orders can be cut for purposes that strictly benefit the military member. There is something called Permissive TDY that can be used for house hunting in connection with a new assignment or in conjunction with outprocessing from military service.
This practice is common especially among those making a permanent change of station move with family members. TDY for house hunting allows a transition from one assignment to the next without excessive use of personal leave while trying to find a place to live.
Deployment orders are different than TDY orders for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons is that deployments are conducted for a specific purpose. They normally involve either training, combat operations, or some other type of mission with a specific activity.
Some branches of the service use the phrase “deployment” interchangeably with TDY, PCS, etc. But the most precise use of the term for our purposes is the traditional one. Deployments are usually to “forward” locations whether for training purposes (a simulated or actual forward deployed area for the training), combat, etc.
Why Deployment Orders Are Different Than TDY Orders
Deployment orders are subject to their own rules and regulations. They are handled differently than PCS or TDY orders. Deployments normally happen in groups. So an individual soldier, sailor, airman, or marine will get deployment orders along with a group of others going to the same place. Group processing into and out of the deployment area of operations will likely be required.
Deployment Time Limits, Pay Issues
Deployments usually have a maximum time for “boots on the ground.” Traditionally, in recent decades, 179 days is a typical deployment length. The reason for this arbitrary number has much do to with the way this type of duty is categorized.
A military member sent out to a forward location for longer than 179 days would need to have that duty time recharacterized as a Permanent Change of Station move rather than a TDY or deployment. Some are confused by the need for jargon to define all this until they learn that how the military handles certain pay and allowances. It may depend on the status of the military member as being on TDY, PCS, or involved in a deployment.
TDY orders may involve a per diem payment for meals, funds for lodging, etc. A deployment presupposes that no such expenses are necessary, except for specifically defined circumstances listed in the orders.
For example, if commercial travel is required for a portion of the deployment, those expenses would be reimbursed. Such is the case if authorized on the orders or if the orders have been amended after the fact to authorize such expenses.
Deployments may trigger the authorization for hazardous duty pay or other payments, where applicable. TDY orders would not. A permanent change of station move (see below) would also include payments and authorizations that are not available under either TDY or deployment orders.
Unique Deployment Considerations: Stop Loss
Because of the nature of deployments (compared to PCS orders and TDY / TAD/ TCS orders), certain issues come up in connection with them that aren’t relevant to PCS or TDYs. One of those is the use of something called Stop-Loss. This is a practice where military members are not permitted to leave military service at the end of their military commitment due to mission demands.
Stop Loss can affect deployments because troops who get orders to deploy may (or may not) be at the end of a current enlistment. The military may choose to deploy these service members anyway and adjust the separation date accordingly. This is usually not done arbitrarily. Career fields who are vulnerable for stop loss action are normally identified/notified in advance of a deployment or potential deployment. Stop loss is not always invoked, but when it is there is usually a high demand or shortage involved for certain types of career fields or duty.
Those with approaching separation dates who are concerned about stop loss and its ability to affect the service member’s plans should discuss their questions with the unit orderly room, command support staff, or personnel office.
Permanent Change of Station Orders
A Permanent Change of Station (PCS), also commonly referred to as a reassignment or sometimes (depending on the branch of service) as a “deployment” (but not a “real” deployment to a combat zone or forward location) is a totally different set of circumstances.
PCS orders authorize certain kinds of travel pay which is not permitted under other types of orders. For example, a service member may be authorized to claim mileage, lodging expenses associated with the PCS move, and there may be a provision for permissive TDY orders for house hunting.
PCS Orders, Pay, and Allowances
PCS orders essentially change the service member’s pay and allowances in some cases. Any cost of living allowance paid at the previous duty station, any housing allowances, and authorization for separate rations will change depending on policies at the gaining command or base.
By comparison, a set of TDY orders does not change any of these things. Hence the phrase “temporary duty” implying that the service member has NOT been reassigned to a new command. Deployments also do not touch the servicemember’s current assignment, etc. PCS orders indicate a more permanent (hence the name) relocation than temporary duty or deployments.
PCS Orders Can Include Family Members
PCS orders are also different than TDY and deployment orders because PCS moves affect the entire military family, where applicable. In some cases the orders will specify an “accompanied tour” and may name the family members in the orders. In others the service member may be reassigned as a “geographic bachelor” and not have the family accompany the service member.
Compare that to most TDY orders which are for service members only (or DoD civilians, etc.) and deployments which never authorize family members to accompany the soldier, sailor, airman, or marine.