How to Take Emergency Leave in the Military 

Active service members can experience a family emergency at any time. The American Red Cross can help military members get home to be with their families in need in a very short amount of time. Continue reading to learn how to take emergency leave in a stressful time.


Emergency Leave Air Transportation

What is Emergency Leave?

Emergency leave is a type of leave used when a military member needs to get somewhere for a family emergency. It is chargeable leave against your ordinary leave balance like normal, but the American Red Cross can offer financial assistance and transportation assistance to get service members where they need to go fast.

Unit commanders are the final authority on approving up to 30 calendar days of leave for an emergency, but unless the mission is absolutely non-continuable without the service member, the emergency leave request will most likely be approved.

Who Can Take Emergency Leave?

  • Active Duty Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Space Force
  • Activated members of the National Guard and Reserve of all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces
  • Civilians employed by or under contract to the Department of Defense and stationed outside of the Continental United States
  • Cadets or midshipmen at a service academy
  • ROTC cadets on orders for training
  • A Merchant Marine aboard a U.S. Naval Ship

When Can You Take Emergency Leave?

Generally, military family emergency leave is given only if an immediate family member such as a mother, father, wife, child or sibling dies, is seriously injured or has another type of major medical emergency. Emergency leave may also be granted for catastrophic life events, serious illness of an immediate family member, family emergencies, or a national emergency.

Emergency Leave Transportation Assistance Financial Assistance American Red Cross

Where Can You Take Emergency Leave?

Military members can take emergency leave to wherever they are needed by their immediate family.

Preparation is Key to Emergency Leave

The most important thing to do to be able to take emergency leave when you need to is to be prepared. Members of the military may go overseas or be on a mission without access to cell phones where it is not easy for family to contact them.

With this in mind, make sure your immediate and close family members know the following information about you and your unit.

  • Full name
  • Rank
  • Branch of Service (Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, Space Force)
  • Social Security Number
  • Date of Birth
  • Military Mailing Address
  • Home Base Unit Information and Deployed Unit Information
  • Your First Sergeant’s Phone Number

Your family will need to call the American Red Cross at 1-800-733-2767 to relay this information and give the details on the immediate family member. Your family will need to have the following information.

  • Name and relation to immediate family member experiencing the emergency (spouse, parent, child/grandchild, or grandparent)
  • Nature of the emergency
  • Where the emergency can be verified (hospital or funeral home)
Natural Disaster Emergency Leave

How to Take Emergency Leave? 

In today’s day in age, we have better communication than ever before. It is likely that your family will contact you first to tell you about the emergency. In this case, the first thing you should do is contact your supervisor and let them know what is going on.

Your supervisor will most likely do everything in their power to help you. Also, your supervisor should help you get in contact with your first sergeant who will work with finance and ticketing to generate orders for you to get to your family member as soon as possible.

You will be authorized up to 4 weeks of Emergency Leave. Your First Sergeant will ask you for the dates you want to be there. Keep in mind that emergency leave is chargeable like regular leave. However, do not stress about how much leave that you have in your current balance.

In emergency situations, you may be authorized to be on excess leave status, where you will earn back the days that you went over your balance. If you go over from what you can accrue over your career, the days that you go over will be unpaid leave.

They will tell you that the commander needs verification from the American Red Cross which your family or yourself can do. You can contact the American Red Cross on your own at 1-800-733-2767. These are the things you are going to need to know about yourself and your family member.

  • Full name
  • Rank
  • Branch of Service (Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, Space Force)
  • Social Security Number
  • Date of Birth
  • Military Mailing Address
  • Home Base Unit Information and Deployed Unit Information
  • Your First Sergeant’s Phone Number
  • Name and relation to immediate family member experiencing the emergency (spouse, parent, child/grandchild, or grandparent)
  • Nature of the emergency
  • Where the emergency can be verified (hospital, place of care, or funeral home)

The American Red Cross should provide a verification number. This number is important, and you should make note of it and provide it to your First Sergeant. This verification number is used to generate your orders.

After the American Red Cross is notified, they will verify the information, and relay a red cross message to your chain of command. It will include your information, your family member’s information, and the nature of emergency. The American Red Cross role is to verify the information. It is up to your chain of command to authorize your emergency leave.

While you are waiting for the verification, if you did the steps above, your chain of command will most likely be completely on board for you to take your emergency travel as soon as possible. Many times, your travel can start as soon as the next day. I would recommend taking the rest of the day to decompress, pack your bags, and remain in contact with your family for any updates on the emergency situation.

My Personal Emergency Leave Experience

While I was stationed overseas in Japan, I was having a normal morning at work and got a random out of the blue call from my uncle. This was out of the ordinary for me. I answered and he told me that my dad had a heart attack and was in need of a major surgery. Of course this news was hard for me to take because I am very close to my dad.

I took a second to collect myself and headed into my supervisor’s office to let him know what was going on with me. He immediately told me about the Emergency Leave program, and got in contact with the First Sergeant for me. I went into the First Sergeant’s office, and he had already set up the form needed to generate Emergency Leave orders for me. He got basic information from me to include my wife’s information. After that, he asked about the dates I was shooting for to leave and come back on.

Most importantly, he directed me to make sure that my family got in touch with the American Red Cross to verify the emergency so the commander would approve my Emergency Leave request.

I called my mom to get an update on my dad and to let her know that I could come home as long as it was reported to the American Red Cross. She handed the phone to my cousin, and I walked him through what he needed to do. (I did not know you could notify the American Red Cross of an emergency situation on your own at the time.)

My chain of command gave me the rest of the day off to pack and assured me that my wife and I would be on a plane as soon as possible.

Before I knew it, I was emailed an itinerary with our trip details on it. It was a flight for the very next day. Travel from Japan to the continental United States is not quick and it took about 24 hours of travel time. I was with my dad within 48 hours of him having a heart attack.

Luckily, my dad recovered and I got to spend the 3 weeks that I was home getting him into the habit of walking every morning, eating a good diet, and to quit smoking. All of the airfare was paid for which saved me around $3700 at the time.

After I got back from Emergency Leave, I was supposed to file a travel voucher within 5 duty days. However, it wasn’t processed in our online system to be able to do one so I sent my orders and itinerary to the finance office and they took care of it for me.

Enlisted Experience

Having to take Emergency Leave is one of the most stressful situations you can have as a member of the armed forces. In the event of an emergency, it always pays dividends to be prepared. Make sure your family knows your information just in case they cannot get a hold of you.

In that stressful time, and your family gets a hold of you to notify you of a family emergency, I would recommend that you call the American Red Cross yourself at 1-800-733-2767. Make sure you get the specific nature of the emergency and where the emergency can be verified (hospital, place of care, funeral home) to relay the Red Cross message which will be verified and sent to your chain of command.

Hopefully, this article is helpful to you. Stay motivated. Collect yourself. Be with your family during a tough time. Remember that your supervisors, coworkers, and First Sergeant should be supportive and helpful through the process. Lean on them and get through this.

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