Air Reserve Technician (ART) Explained

The Guard and Reserve offer a myriad of job choices for the military aviator.  Of the full-time positions available, one of the options is the Air Reserve Technician, or ART.  The ARC (Air Reserve Component–an easy abbreviation for Guard/Reserve) created ART positions to capture technical expertise and operational experience within ARC units to ensure combat readiness.  

ARTs occupy a unique place in the Guard and Reserve world because they are both a civilian technician and a part-time traditional Reservist or Guardsman.  This can seem a little strange at first, but the easiest way to think about it is using the traditional Reserve model: a citizen with a normal civilian job volunteers for the Reserves and works his/her one weekend a month plus two weeks extra per year.  Take that model and change the “normal civilian job” to an ART. In essence, the government is employing you as a civilian to be a military expert. What makes you military is actually your traditional Guard/Reserve job that you do “on the side” from your ART duties.

When you are hired as an ART, you actually have to apply and in-process two jobs.  The ART civilian job is managed through the federal Office of Personnel Management, or OPM.  Your unit has to work with this office to get you hired by the federal government into their available technician position.  Once you are hired, your technician job is a general schedule, or GS job much the same as other DoD civilians. On the military side, your unit must hire you into one of their available part-time positions.  This military position actually qualifies you for your technician position–so you can’t have the civilian job without the corresponding military job.

Sure, you could drive a bus for the rest of your career…or you could continue flying something like this while bringing in nearly $200K and earning a double-retirement. (U.S. Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Sam Eckholm)

This dual role comes with some unique benefits.  Foremost, ARTs are paid to be technical experts. This means your priority is to fly and keep the squadron running.  You’ll work almost a standard 9-5 workweek, utilizing a time card to account for your hours and paid accordingly. You are expected to work 80 hours every two weeks in your ART job. This generates significant stability, offers easy long term planning, and guarantees sustained income.  As an ART you’ll accrue leave easily and can usually take time off when you need it. Your health insurance is covered through the Federal Employee Health Benefits (FEHB) system, so it is contracted to Blue Cross Blue Shield. For those that have experienced Tricare, you’ll know this is a perk.  

ARTs are paid very well.  If someone is coming off Active Duty as an O-4, he/she will start as GS-13 with a pay step, a recruitment/retention bonus, and a locality adjustment plus your O-4 reserve pay.  If you are hired into an ART position for a UPT slot, you’ll likely start as a GS-12 step 4 or 5, with recruitment bonus and locality adjustment, and an O-3 reserve paycheck by the time you are off seasoning orders (UPT, B-course, a year of full-time orders in the squadron–think AGR).  There is a more detailed pay breakout below. You’ll also earn two sources of retirement, one is through the federal government as a civilian employee and the other your military retirement. On top of that pay, you earn your Reserve pay for working as a Reservist or DSG.

The combination of Federal civilian and reserve retirement plans makes for a pretty bright light at the end of the tunnel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jonathon Carnell)

Which brings me to some challenges.  Since ARTs are dual-role, they also have to participate in drill/UTA weekends.  This will inevitably result in 12-day work weeks (this was my single biggest complaint about the ART system).  While you do get paid as a traditional Reservist during the weekend, you don’t get any compensation time off or relief–you are expected to show back up to the squadron in your “civilian” technician job on Monday.  The dual-role system also means you have two different sets of administrative functions for pay, benefits, entitlements, etc. Want to get paid as an ART? Fill out your timecard and populate a program with your hours.  Want to get paid for your military duties that same week? Log into the Reserve system and request orders, validate them, and then send them to finance to get paid. You get the idea. Last, to maximize your Reserve/military pay, you’ll end up having to work more.  Time is money to an ART. On top of your 80 technician hours every two weeks, you can work your Reserve job, typically in 4-hour chunks. But while you’re working on the military side, that time doesn’t count towards your 80 ART hours (unless you use military leave from your ART job, but that is limited).  This will generate some 10+ hour days.

One other major caveat to the ART avenue: it is not USERRA eligible/protected, meaning you cannot utilize military leave from an airline to be an ART and expect to keep the airline job.  If you are looking to get hired as an airline pilot and then drop mil leave to fly full time in a Guard or Reserve unit as an ART–you can’t. The only way to do so is quit the airline job or get an AGR position that is eligible for USERRA protection (one reason why AGRs are coveted items these days).  For more on USERRA, visit here: https://www.esgr.mil/USERRA/USERRA-for-Service-Members, or read our post on the topic.

If you want to stay an ART for the length of your career, you’ll advance in the ARC much the same way as an AGR.  Your GS civilian pay will continually go up with service time, usually a pay step every 2 years plus the adjustment to your current step for inflation every fiscal year.  Your commensurate military rank will go up as positions their corresponding ranks become available. This promotion evolution will happen slower than the Active Duty. You can safely assume that as you make O-5, you’ll be around a GS-13 step 8 or step 9 making around $190,000/year, and if you make O-6 you’ll be somewhere in the GS-14 ranks making well over $200,000/year.  These numbers are generally reflective of an average; there are many variables in career progression, bonuses, locality, etc. that exceed the breadth of this article.

To wrap up, I’ll break it down into some strengths and weaknesses, then offer some ART pay examples and notes.

Strengths: 

  • Immediate income with strong sustained income–senior ARTs make plenty.
  • High degree of personal schedule management
  • Multiple sources of retirement
  • You can just keep flying military airplanes as long as you like

Weaknesses:

  • Time prioritized over task (you have to spend X amount of time at work regardless of your task load)
  • Retirement is deferred
  • High admin workload from two jobs in separate government organizations
  • Not eligible for USERRA protection

Experienced ART pay example (likely Active Duty O-4 transitioning to Guard/Reserve) 

ART civilian pay as GS-13 step 4:

  • Base pay with generic 25% locality addition: $108,170. 
  • Recruitment/Retention Bonus: approx. $27000 (variable, usually around 20-25% of base pay)
  • If eligible (flying status and past your UPT ten year commitment): $18,000 aviation bonus
  • Total $135,170/year

ART military pay as O-4 Reservist

  • Average: $37,000 (meaning you worked more than just the required Reserve events, call it on average 88 hours every two weeks when combined with ART)

Put ‘em together and… $172,170 ($190,170 with aviation bonus) per year for your first year as an ART/O-4


New hire ART pay example (after UPT, B-course, and a year of seasoning done and promoted to O-3)

ART civilian pay as GS-12 step 4

  • Base pay (including 25% locality increase as an average): $90,967
  • Bonus: approx. $21,000
  • Total: $111,967

ART military pay as O-3 Reservist

  • Average: $28,000

Put ‘em together and… $139,967/year for your first as an ART/O-3 after training pipeline and a year of seasoning


Notes: 

  • Recruitment/Retention bonus is usually awarded to pilots to keep pay competitive
  • Recruitment/Retention bonus is also usually for a set period of time, usually 2-3 years.  It can be extended or a new bonus awarded once the first one expires.
  • This does not include some additional bonuses that can be unit or AFSC dependent
  • All of the above pay is gross pay, meaning BEFORE taxes
  • Pay tables with locality for all areas are at the below website if you’d like to research your exact area: https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/salaries-wages/2020/general-schedule/

AGR to ART pay comparison.  These are approximated values with the following assumptions: 

  • $35k aviation bonus, average time in service, and mid-range generic BAH with dependents, BAS, and tiered flight pay applied for AGR.  
  • Generic mid-range locality and bonuses, typical GS pay grades, and $18k aviation bonus applied on ART side.  

Keep in mind this is extremely generic.  The pay and BAH differences across just an O-3 with a few years’ difference in service are substantial.  All are gross pay and do not include retirement considerations or other variables.

O-3 AGR: $133,200/year (over 3 years time in service, $600/mo flight pay)
O-3 ART: $140,000/year (no aviation bonus for eligibility)

O-4 AGR: $160,000/year (over 12 years time in service, $1000/mo flight pay)
O-4 ART: $190,000/year (with $18k aviation bonus)

O-5 AGR: $185,630/year (over 16 years time in service, $1000/mo flight pay)
O-5 ART: $208,000/year (with $18k aviation bonus)

O-6 AGR: $196,266/year (over 20 years time served, $1000/mo flight pay)
O-6 ART: $215,000/year (no aviation bonus for eligibility)

The data for these comparisons is available in these locations:


Image Credits:

This post’s feature image is from: https://www.dvidshub.net/image/5320540/hill-air-force-base-hosts-f-35a-and-f-16-integrated-combat-exercise.

The F-22 cranking hard in Singapore is from: https://www.dvidshub.net/image/6121033/soaring-over-singapore.

The C-5 interior shot is from: https://www.dvidshub.net/image/5625652/air-forces-largest-aircraft-front-and-center-worlds-largest-airshow.

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