Placeholder canvas

ADOS: Choose Your Own Adventure

Views from the armpit of California….

January 23, 2024

PART ONE: Building flexibility into your military career

Looking back at the interviews I collected for this article back in 2021, I realized it’s been nearly TWO YEARS since I originally intended to write this article! Well, I’m just now getting to it, so I hope this information will be useful for you.

The first thing I’ll say is thank you to the 12 ADOS soldiers who took the time to share their thoughts with me and contribute to this article. These servicemembers range from enlisted to officer, both male and female, with families and without, combat arms and non-combat arms, and from different branches of service. 

I was in the Army, so the information I share may be more Army-specific, but my goal is to try to provide information that everyone can use. The contributors helped me provide a diversity of backgrounds and experience, and I appreciate their efforts to help others like you and me with honest feedback about their experiences. 

This article is a compilation of their collective perspectives and what I was able to find through my own research. Please note, this is only Part One. I received so much useful information from the contributors that there’s too much for just one article. Check the site or keep up on social media to watch for Part Two.

In short, ADOS tours are a largely unknown way to take advantage of interesting and unique active duty opportunities as a Reserve Component servicemember.

The first place you might look for ADOS positions is on Tour of Duty (TOD), a job listing site that I’ve written about here. After reading this, if you decide you’re interested in checking out what kind of jobs are available, read that article first! As I usually say at the beginning of informational articles–I am simply sharing what I’ve learned to the best of my ability. There may be important facts I’ve left out, or perhaps statements I’ve made that are inaccurate. If you notice something, feel free to get in touch and I’m happy to update the article. I’m just doing the best I can with the information I have. I’ve not intentionally misrepresented anything here, but please do your own research because policies change and government websites get updated. I have a day job and a life, so sometimes I miss things. There are also things that I choose to exclude from these articles because it’s just too unit and situation-dependent that I don’t want to confuse people by making generalizations. Thanks for understanding.

Ok, let’s get to it. What does ADOS even mean and is this something that even sounds remotely interesting? 


Before I begin sharing contributor perspectives, I want to provide some key facts so you get a basic understanding of what ADOS tours are and how they work. ADOS stands for Active Duty Operational Support, which essentially means you’re a reservist on an authorized voluntary tour for an active duty position for a fixed period of time. Most servicemembers who go on ADOS tours are TPU (Troop Program Unit, the classic one weekend a month, two weeks in the summer), IMA (Individual Mobilization Augmentee), or IRR (Individual Ready Reserve). No, you can’t volunteer for these positions while you’re still on active duty. You must be released from active duty and have transitioned into either the USAR, ARNG, or IRR to apply for ADOS jobs.

I’ve included an excerpt below from AR 135-200 that explains the different types of ADOS.

Chapter 6, AR 135-200

The purpose of ADOS tours is to provide temporary manpower beyond what active duty or AGR (Active Guard Reserve) can support. These positions can be offered for most ranks, but the majority I’ve seen on Tour of Duty (TOD) are NCO and above. A tour can range anywhere from weeks to months, usually under 365 days. While not guaranteed, tours may renew if a unit still has a need for the position and has the budget to support. Even though a tour renews, this does not necessarily mean that you can re-apply for this position as ADOS tours are not meant to be indefinite active duty positions.

To expand on that a bit, the image below is an excerpt from the 2022 NDAA documenting a change in the maximum ADOS time authorized increasing from 3 out of the 4 previous years to 5 out of the previous 6 years. To clarify, this means you can serve a cumulative 5 years on ADOS tours within a 6 year period, at that point you have to take a one-year cool off period. This is a huge benefit and just allows you even more flexibility to accept more ADOS positions if that’s what you want to do.

As I mentioned before, a great place to start looking is Tour of Duty, or more recently, Carrera, which is a new online job listing platform that includes the same vacancies listed on Tour of Duty. The difference is that Carrera can be accessed from a non-government computer, which is super helpful for Reserve Component soldiers so they don’t have to head to a base or armory just to check job listings.

For me personally, I’ve not yet applied for an ADOS position, but this option is interesting to me, which is why I’ve maintained my current status in the Individual Ready Reserves (IRR). ADOS positions give people options and flexibility in a few ways:

  • OCONUS ADOS tours are available and you can find unique opportunities to live and work abroad… This also brings a unique set of challenges I’ll talk about more in Part Two.
  • Your time in an ADOS position *may* fall under Title 10 and counts towards Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. Some ADOS orders are Title 10 and some are Title 32. Only Title 10 and some types of Title 32 502f (as I understand) orders will count towards Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. Anyone who has better information feel free to chime in a provide an official source that readers can go check out themselves. And you can always speak with the VA when you get your orders to verify, but I’d also try to get something in writing from them because half of the time they don’t even know what they’re talking about.
  • TRICARE Prime is included for you and your family – make sure you call to cancel TRICARE Reserve Select and switch to TRICARE Prime as soon as you have your orders.
  • ADOS active duty years *CAN* count towards retirement, lowering the retirement age for Reserve Component servicemembers. The deal is, they must be specific types of orders and you can’t lower your retirement age beyond 50 years old. There’s a lot more to it than this, so if you want to go down this rabbit hole, check out the image below, with the cited document available in the caption.

So that was a brief overview, let’s get into the interview feedback.


While the overall impression I got of ADOS was a positive one, there are definitely some words of caution. The majority of people enjoyed their ADOS tour, but there were definitely some frustrating challenges people experienced, typically administrative-related. You may get lucky with a great unit and leaders, but ultimately, if you don’t relentlessly advocate for yourself, you’re at the mercy of potentially preoccupied and inattentive leaders. As an ADOS soldiers, you simply aren’t the priority and it’s your individual responsibility to act accordingly. It seems that with more flexibility and freedom, also comes less structure and support, which means that you’ll probably have to put more energy and effort towards managing your own career. Things won’t be on autopilot like they are on active duty. Kinda makes sense, like Eleanor Roosevelt said: with freedom, comes responsibility. I think is is perhaps particularly challenging for junior enlisted soldiers or people who don’t want to be a nuisance and struggle to advocate for themselves.

BOTTOM LINE: Again, overall people had great experiences, with one contributor saying his ADOS tour was the “best opportunity I have had throughout my Army career.”

How did you first learn about ADOS and how did you find your position?

Based on what people shared, it seems like ADOS tours are another one of those (potentially) great military opportunities that most people just don’t know about. It’s not always easy to find good information online and so it’s much easier if you know someone who can help get you started. Many people heard about ADOS from a friend, S-1 Net emails, a military Facebook group, or were offered a position in a unit who needed support.

So word of mouth and informal channels were the most useful in learning ADOS existed, but also in discovering specific available positions. Unfortunately, ADOS information isn’t typically presented during any of the military transition programs, even though this could be a useful bridge for some people leaving active duty.

When units determine they need additional support, they sometimes already have individuals in mind that they want to fill those positions, but they must still go through the formal process of posting the ADOS job listing on TOD. That means your chances may be limited for some of these tours. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply, but just reiterates the importance of networking and relationships. 

BOTTOM LINE: In the active duty world, ADOS tours aren’t well known, but these opportunities are potentially great to incorporate into your transition plan. Most people learned about TOD and their ADOS position by word of mouth, which just tells you that it’s a lot about who you know. 

Can you tell us about some of the basics?

  • PAY: ADOS soldiers gave the full spectrum of feedback here. You receive active duty pay and may be eligible for BAH and OHA. If your orders are 30 days or more, you receive full BAH. There’s a lot more to this starting on page 26-50 in Volume 7A, Chapter 26 of DoD 7000,14-R, so check it out for yourself. Since ADOS soldiers are individual special cases, it seems there’s more potential for S-1, HRC, finance, etc, to screw up your paperwork and your pay. One soldier said his pay was messed up ten times in a year, which I think highlights the importance of advocating for yourself and the extra effort you’ll need to exert to make sure you’re taken care of. Again, you’re just one person, and leaders with limited bandwidths probably won’t be looking out for you as much as the regular guys in their formation. It is what it is.
  • EVALUATIONS: OERs and NCOERs seem to be dependent on the organization and leadership. Some had no issues at all, but others received zero support or attention regarding evaluations, which shows that it requires the soldier’s individual voice to bring their evals to their leaders’ attention. Sometimes, their evals weren’t on anyone’s radar until the ADOS soldier was transferring units or duty stations. Another shared that she didn’t receive an evaluation at all for her time: she never asked for one, and it was never offered, but if she could do it again, she’d definitely ask. Finally, some raters were willing to do extended annuals to cover short gaps (30-60 days) so there were no breaks in rated time.
  • HEALTHCARE: Just like anyone else on active duty, you are eligible for Tricare Prime. As soon as your orders begin, you will need to immediately call Tricare to stop your Tricare Reserve Select so you can transition to Tricare Prime. Make sure you do this because you could end up with billing issues. If you’re unclear about anything, call TRICARE and ask. This is not a situation where you want to wait to ask for forgiveness. You also may qualify for TRICARE Prime Remote if your home and work addresses are more than 50 miles (or one hour’s drive) from a military hospital or clinic.
  • WORK/LIFE BALANCE: Some people enjoyed freedom and flexibility with their ADOS tour and some found that they were extremely busy, reaching burnout. It seems to depend on the job description, the type of unit, the leadership, and your ability to set expectations early. You want to be an asset to the team and pull your own weight, but you don’t want to be the guy who gets all of the shit details just because you’re ADOS. There’s only so much you can do, but knowing this going in, you can be selective about what positions you apply for and note any red flags you see during the application process. Some ADOS soldiers had a very predictable 9 to 5 schedule with understanding leadership who was generous with leave and family time, while others even had the ability to make their own schedule. Still, others were constantly traveling and working late. Others who took overseas ADOS positions struggled with partners or spouses trying to get adjusted, just like normal active duty soldiers often do. So I think there’s the potential to experience the full spectrum, just like active duty, but I think there’s just generally a much higher potential for more freedom and control. 
  • UNIT ATTITUDES: So my assumption was that ADOS soldiers maybe aren’t treated as well because they’re sort of a “temporary” member of the team. One soldier did unfortunately experience this, and it seems that his unit just generally didn’t treat him well, which led to an overall bad experience. With others, they felt well-integrated, accepted, and were treated just like everyone else. Again, it seems to be unit and individual-dependent, so look out for red flags and know that you’ll likely be expected to pretty much figure things out on your own as an ADOS soldier. I think just knowing to expect this dynamic going into an ADOS tour and mentally preparing yourself is probably helpful.
  • TRANSITION PROCESS: Many contributors said to be prepared for a lengthy process. Sure, it could just take a couple of weeks, but it could also take a few months to get approved and all of the paperwork signed off by the appropriate people at every level to actually get you on orders. That means you should not just wait for things to happen. Actively engage your POCs at different levels to make sure your application isn’t hung up somewhere. I think we all have experienced this to some degree on active duty, but for ADOS tours, it seems that you need to be even more involved. Use your judgement, but that could mean multiple phone calls or stopping by someone’s office, whatever it takes. Squeaky wheel gets the grease… 

BOTTOM LINE: Experiences may vary so you MUST advocate for yourself. This can be challenging, especially for more junior soldiers (enlisted or officer). Do not assume thing will work themselves out. Find mentors and establish informal networks of more experienced ADOS soldiers who will be there to give advice and help you along the way. Your chain of command may not understand or be interested in putting in the time and effort to take care of you, so you must find ways to take care of yourself. For pay, evals, job scope… all of it! Easier said than done.

What are some of your favorite things about ADOS tours?

This was entirely a mixed bag. People cited flexibility, family stability, control, learning and building experience, predictable timeline, and job variety. Some of these benefits are very unit dependent and related to if your ADOS tour is projected to get renewed or not and how invested the unit is in you. 

One reason ADOS tours are so appealing to me is predictability. If you get stuck in an undesirable situation or the unit isn’t a good fit, you know exactly when you’re leaving, and in most cases it will be in less than a year. As far as I can tell, you will always be in a situation where there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. If you’re trying to plan on your next civilian job, you know the exact date to the day that your ADOS orders end. I think this probably helps with burnout because mentally, you know when you’ll reach the finish line and you can pace yourself in a much more realistic way.

On active duty, and probably in the Reserve Component, it sometimes feels like you’re sprinting a marathon. A short-term tour is much more “bite sized” and if you need to burn the midnight oil for some reason, you’re in a better position to. Much like running hard for 800 meters to the finish line is more doable than running at that same pace for 26 miles.

ADOS tours often give you the opportunity to experience something new because while there are MOS-specific positions, there are also MOS or branch (for officers) immaterial positions where it doesn’t matter what your specialty is. This gives you the flexibility to try out working at different types of units in positions you wouldn’t normally have access to. This allows you to learn and broaden your skills. Additionally, ADOS positions are typically protected from being assigned extra duties that aren’t related to their job position.

BOTTOM LINE: People appreciate the flexibility, control, timeline predictability, and new experiences. ADOS tours provide unique opportunities and if you have the time and interest, I’d go for it!

Final thoughts

ADOS and TOD are tools you can use to sort of “choose your own adventure” in the military. If you’re between civilian jobs, in a period of transition, or are just itching to do Army stuff for a little while, ADOS tours could be a great fit for you. Among other Reserve Component opportunities like the IMA or MALO programs, you can find ways to still contribute while building a civilian career and taking care of your family. 

An important point I want to emphasize is that in my research and learning from people’s personal experiences, it seems many of the pros/cons of ADOS tours are not black and white. People often had contradictory experiences and something I noticed is that with many things, the answer is “it depends.” As I mentioned before, there are issues I decided to just not address in this article because they are so situation/unit dependent and I didn’t want to give people the wrong idea. Like I’ve  said, feel free to reach out if you see any inaccuracies in the article or have a resource to add. Thanks for reading and hope this helps!

This is only part one. In Part Two, we’ll take a closer look at ADOS misconceptions, career impact, and what some of the challenges are that you may encounter.


  • PFI – Personnel Force Innovation, another site where you can find available ADOS tours. Download the Excel spreadsheet on the website to view job listings.
  • ADOS Welcome Guide – This is for soldiers assigned to USAREUR-AF on ADOS orders. Uploading it here because there may be some useful information for everyone, but please do your own research and find information specific to where you’ll be going. 
  • AR 135-200 – Army regulation on active duty for Missions, Projects, and Training for Reserve Component Soldiers. This is the best regulation I found to find information about ADOS tours.

If anyone has any other suggestions for other helpful resources, please let me know so I can add them!