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Optempo, Perstempo: What They Mean

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 18, 1999 – Many service members are not sure what "optempo" and "perstempo" are, except they know they don't like them high.

The terms are related, and service members and even some DoD officials use them interchangeably. The fact is, they're not the same.

A tempo is a musical term meaning the speed at which a piece is played. The word's definition over time has expanded to mean the pace of an activity, as in the "tempo of everyday life is getting faster."

DoD adopted "operations tempo" as a measure of the pace of an operation or operations in terms of equipment usage -- aircraft "flying hours," ship "steaming days" or "tank [driving] miles." In the military way, the term became jargon: optempo.

Obviously, the optempo increases with the intensity of and number of operations.

Maria Hughes, senior readiness analyst in the Pentagon, said the services generally define personnel tempo -- "perstempo" -- as the time an individual spends away from home station. Each service measures somewhat differently. Optempo and perstempo seem the same because they often rise and fall together, but they don't have to.

Got that straight? Now, complicating the situation are two new terms officials are starting to use: "worktempo" and "deptempo."

Worktempo is a newer of the two. It is generally defined as the pace of work that military personnel experience at home stations. In general, when a unit deploys, those members staying at home see a worktempo increase.

"They have to perform many of the same jobs with far fewer people," said Army Lt. Col. Catherine Abbott, a Pentagon spokesman. Likewise, units preparing for deployment have an increase in worktempo prior to departure.

Deptempo stands for deployment tempo. It's generally a measure of the number of days in one month that a unit would have to deploy to accomplish assigned training or operational missions. Scarce units in periods of high demand -- for instance, AWACS aircraft units -- tend to have high deptempos.

So now you know what the DoD jargon means. Don't get too comfortable with the definitions, though, because the defense authorization bill before Congress directs DoD to standardize the definitions. More on that effort later -- as its tempo increases.

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