Reserve Reasoning, Part I

A recent post talked a little about the nature of the Navy Reserve. This one follows up with why anyone would want to take on a part-time job in the military. But, instead of just drawling on about a laundry list of benefits, let’s tackle it from a different perspective.

As a civilian, you may have heard that career tracks in the military are rather structured. Those who wish to make it to a twenty-year retirement must check certain boxes in their career field during that span. If you have hopes of becoming a general or admiral someday, things are even more constricted. Those who step off the conveyor may be able to recover, but they are risking promotion and possibly even retention.

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SecDef and SecNav, the Dynamic Duo

Here in the waning days of the current administration, attention is being paid. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter is spending a lot of time at podiums and darkening millions of pixels discussing personnel reforms; Military Times provides a summary of his efforts in an article about SecDef’s March 22 visit to West Point. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus is, um, perhaps a little overenthusiastic at times, and I waver between thinking his heart is in the right place or that he’s just angling for higher office from a future chief executive. He has meaningfully changed the Navy’s Surface Warfare career path (where I grew up), probably for the better; he also rather vindictively gave the Marine Corps just two weeks to come up with a plan to integrate its separate male and female boot camps, and then backed off under fire. In any case, manpower reform’s high-profile treatment in the final 18 months of a Presidential administration means it’s likely they’ll be able to say “See, we TRIED!” without actually accomplishing anything.

And this is where the Reserve Component comes in. Most of the proposed reforms for Active Duty come down to increasing career flexibility, and giving members the ability to get commands, promotions, and pensions without following a narrow path. Reservists already have that. By the very nature of not being on active duty, they can take time for school or to raise a family, or enter private industry and bring those lessons learned back into the military. Being a Reservist is ideal for those who enjoy being in the military but not the constricted career track.

Admittedly there’s a key difference in that reform would theoretically provide full pay and benefits to Active Duty members at grad school or other career alternatives, while Reservists aren’t in that position. But there are still substantial benefits to being a Reservist (to be covered in this space soon), and it makes a great Plan B if, as I expect, Plan A dies a silent death with the change of administration in January 2017.

Already, a Reservist can achieve the career flexibility with which personnel reformers are so enamored, and which today’s workforce (you know, those pesky Millennials) expects. Time for additional schooling, professional development or raising children can be taken when the Reservist plans it. As opposed to the Active Duty job assignment (“detailing”) process, over which members have very little control, Reservists (in the Navy, at least) have a great deal of influence over what unit they are assigned to and what orders they take. Often, it is simply an application and interview process nearly analogous to what happens in the civilian world. The Reservist can apply for orders that last weeks, months or occasionally years, only seeking and accepting them when he or she wants to. The exception is involuntary mobilizations, in which the Reservist has little say, but even these can be headed off by blocking off a certain period and volunteering for one that falls within it. There will be downtime between military jobs, but for many people that is a feature, not a bug. That time allows for a civilian job or to accomplish some other personal goal. The member will perform monthly drills while not on orders, but even those drills can be moved, within reason, to a time that better fits the member’s schedule.

There are trade-offs, of course – there are very few places Navy Reservists can reside if they want to do a lot of work for the Navy while still sleeping in their own house at night. And you can command a Reserve unit, but command at sea is very, very rare short of World War III. At the highest levels, a lot of Reserve officers are the deputy to an Active Duty commander, but very few actually are the commander.

To truly make the Reserve Component a major part of reforms to the active side, a lot of jobs (“billets”) would need to be reassigned from active to reserve Sailors and new manpower processes built to train and man those positions. And Congress needs to get involved, if for  nothing else than to update the services’ authorized strength. This is not a turnkey solution, but the ingredients are present. Ongoing Army efforts at Active, Reserve and National Guard integration may prove instructive.

Everyone leaves Active Duty for one reason or another. If upon careful reflection, you realize your reasons for separating come down to an unwillingness to follow the prescribed track, but you are reluctant to leave the community and camaraderie of military service, then affiliation with the Reserve Component may be a good way to address both sentiments. Service as a Reservist is a way to achieve, in large measure, the career freedom and flexibility desired by many in the Millennial generation, and may yet be part of the solution to the personnel questions of the entire Department of Defense.

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One thought on “Reserve Reasoning, Part I

  1. Pingback: Reserve Reasoning, Part II | The Salty Wog

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