I am about to give you top secretedy, secret information about the truth of balancing the Army reserves and civilian life.
You’ve seen the commercials that make you want to fist pump and high five yourself because America is amazing.
Land of the free and home of the bad-asses that protect us.
(At least that’s how the commercial makes you feel anyway)
Then the screen flashes and you see ARMY RESERVES in golden letters calling out for you to take action. Be a boss in your civilian life with transferable skills AND a top notch Soldier when duty calls. It’s as easy as a light switch. Turning on one aspect of your life and switching off the other. They don’t tell you that sometimes it’s a melting pot mess if you’re not careful; even for the anally organized and professional like myself.
Instead you get fed this image
But what about the cut scene of your boss sighing loudly in a “What the f*** you have another three day drill weekend in the middle of our busiest season!” kinda way?
Here’s the truth about balancing life as a Solider and a civilian from my own experiences and others I’ve been privy to. This is what your recruiter won’t tell you but what you should know before making the decision to sign on the dotted line.
Your boss can’t fire you so suck it up.
It’s true. After being given your drill schedule which usually (I use that term loosely hence the italics) consists of a weekend once a month and a separate full two weeks out the year; your boss cannot fire you for fulfilling your military obligations when called to duty. Even if you’re gone for two years and up to five years. This includes any orders or active duty time that you may get selected for whether voluntary or involuntary.
The fine line with this is that if you have a spiteful boss they can make your work environment uncomfortable, stressful or plain out unbearable. If you can prove this then there are actions you can take to protect yourself under federal regulations that can be better explained with these links:
However, if I have to force a boss to treat me fairly then I would think that makes a hostile work environment in and of itself. Just saying.
Not to mention the schedule when it comes to being a full time student. You have to take into account that most professors will work with you to help curve any time you miss; however, in an increasingly demanding year you could miss anywhere from a week to almost a month of school in the start of the semester and if you have a professor who’s an ass then that’s a recipe for a disaster. Schools really aren’t required to look out for part-time Soliders.
In being open with expectations and issues with your employers and professors beforehand, also talking with college administration, you can curb some of these issues.
Sometimes you can’t be Mary Jane
Yes seriously. For all the reasons discussed above sometimes it will be difficult to give to your civilian job in ways that could help you advance at a faster rate. And vice versa. Balancing your schedule often requires you to shift or cancel things you may have planned in the civilian world based on your military needs. Fulfilling obligations on both sides could leave you in a gray area professionally if you’re not actively paying attention.
It pays for school…kinda.
When you’re in your enlisting process you must make sure you get the Montegormy G.I. bill put into your contract before signing your life over. Otherwise, you’re just out of luck. Some recruiters will take the time to explain this to you. Others not so much. I was lucky to have a decent recruiter.
Still, in the terms of hearing “it will pay for school” you will think that comes with a heafty check to the school you’ll be attending. Instead it comes in monthly payments made to you for about $500 to $700 depending on your contract.
You will hear terms like “Kicker” or “ROTC program money” my suggestion is get a good understanding of what financial benefits you’ll actually be getting because after you sign everyone will just assume you know.
There is also something called tuition assistance that can be paired with your scholarships, grants, and G.I. Bill and if used correctly you could graduate with virtually no debt. Oh how I wish someone would’ve told me these things. You’re welcome by the way. At this point it should go without saying that you should definitely read the fine print before signing. Because once it’s signed that’s it; no going back to get extra benefits.
What YOU time?
Your administrators, unit, and superiors expect you to be all that you can be and EVERYTHING else. This includes taking care of military assignments, classes, appointments, staying physically fit etc…much of it on your civilian time. To compound this, your boss will likey expect the same treatment (rightfully so) this can translate into, as I stated in a previous post, this…
110 % to civilian job
110% to military job
40% to family and friends (because you have to fit them in somehow)
and very little, time or energy left over to yourself without some serious organizational planning skills.
I’m not at all saying that there will be no time for yourself and personal goals but you will be in a unique situation where you are expected to perform at 100% from your civilian job and especially for your military job. Make sure that you are planning time to prioritize yourself as well as your jobs.
I tell people all the time that me and Uncle Sam have a love/hate relationship when they ask about my military career. It is the most honest representation I could say. Most people have this glorified sense of the military and in some ways it’s justified; not many people are willing to sign over their time (the most precious commodity) to a government with mixed reviews.
Regardless of your personal opinion, that in itself is pretty brave. But the truth is being part-time military is in many ways just like any other job with its high points and low points. You are expected to perform specific tasks as an individual and a team player. Often there’s organizational issues,
disagreements, celebrations, and everything else you would find at your normal 9 to 5. Don’t let the stigma of “military” fool you into thinking you can’t provide what is needed to be a Soldier.
Some people get confused over what the National Guard is compared to the Reserves. The biggest difference is that the National Guard is sorta like a militia for each state. This is where most of there funding comes from and if something like a natural disaster effects that states those are the Soliders you see as responders. Reservists are funded federally. We both have pretty much the same one weekend a month, two weeks out the year obligations. Other branches such as the Air Force and navy offer part time contracts as well. Don’t be afraid to ask or accept a bonus. No you won’t get screamed at every day in training and Yes, it was worth it.
I made many important milestones as an adult as a result of being a Soldier. I wouldn’t trade the experience, growth or financial advancements it has afforded me for anything. I had specific reasons on why I joined that has kept me focused on my military journey. Still, I made mistakes due to ignorance of my benefits and rights; had I’d known much of the information above I could’ve enjoyed an even better experience as a young professional and a Soldier. I hope these truths help you in some way. For questions, comment or email me and #LetsBuild