In Part I we talked about reasons of morale and morals that might encourage someone to become a military Reservist, particularly in the Navy Reserve. Part II is the one that will probably come up if you randomly Google “Navy Reserve benefits.” Because there are a lot of them. If there weren’t, it would be difficult to justify the time and effort spent on what is still just a part-time job.
So Why Do It?
Depending on how long you were Active Duty, becoming a civilian can be jarring. You might be going right into school; there might be a job waiting; there might not. Chances are whatever job comes next is not in the military’s league where compensation is concerned, and certainly it has nowhere near the same benefits package. Membership in the Reserve Component or National Guard can help soften the blow.
Extra Paycheck: It is common to take a pay cut when you leave Active Duty. Routine Sailors’ griping aside, the military is very well compensated, and it’s tough for equivalent civilian work to match it. Working that one weekend a month is a good way to earn some of those lost wages back. Plus some enlisted and officer communities have accession bonuses when you join the Reserve straight from active duty, so there might be some additional cash to assist with your transition. Most of your costs, like travel and uniforms, are tax deductible, too.
Retirement: Many leave active service at four or five years; I separated at seven years, seven months. Some friends of mine left after eleven or twelve years, having done sea tours as department heads. The longer you serve, the more acutely you feel a certain issue – the Navy has not contributed a single dollar to your retirement (though this is changing soon). In that sense, affiliating with the Reserve is a way to prevent that time from being wasted. You continue to accumulate credit for time served and once you hit the magical twenty-year mark, you become eligible for a pension starting at age 60, possibly earlier. It’s not as generous as an active duty pension, but any kind of defined benefit is a rarity these days and Reservists have a means of earning one.
Health Care: As a Reservist you remain eligible for Tricare (the DoD-administered health care program, and health care is NOT one word, thankyouverymuch) under the Tricare Reserve Select (TRS) program. Unlike Tricare for Active Duty, this is a premium-based program, and functions basically like any other health plan in the civilian market, allowing you to choose local providers where you live, not military hospitals. The family premium is half what my employer offers for a similar plan, so I count that as a win. Note: Federal employees are NOT eligible for TRS.
Education: The Post-9/11 GI Bill is an incredibly generous inducement to national service (probably too generous to be sustained, but that’s for another post). If you didn’t have enough time on active duty to have earned the full benefit, some additional time as a Reservist can help you get to 100 percent. And while this is probably the most widely-used program, it is far from the only educational benefit. Officers are eligible to pursue masters’ degrees through the Naval War College and the other services’ equivalent schools, both in-residence and via regional seminars (the Fleet Seminar Program, which I am doing). And three times a year the Reserve Component National Security Course convenes in Washington, DC, for senior enlisted and mid-to-senior-grade officers, a course to which I’ve applied before and will continue applying until I get in. Then there are service schools, specific to your job or unit, which pop up in the course of performing your duties (I attended this course as part of my mobilization). This is far from an exhaustive list, but hits the highlights.
Job Opportunities: It’s not all just overseas mobilizations. Depending on where you live, you might be able to pick up some work in uniform – anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple years – without even changing your ZIP code. This is obviously easiest where there’s a big Navy presence, places such as Norfolk, VA; San Diego, CA; Washington, DC; or, believe it or not, Memphis, TN. But sometimes oddball things come up in random places, like recruiting duty or supporting a Fleet Week. Essentially, being a Reservist gets you access to the job board.
Networking: Through your unit or local Reserve center you’ll meet people you never would have otherwise, and reconnect with folks you haven’t seen in years. Especially if you’re new to an area, it’s a great way to make connections and integrate into the community.
Transferability: Most of the work I’ve done for the Navy and the extra education I’ve been able to get from it has been applicable in some fashion in my civilian profession. The degree of transferability varies depending on what kind of work you do, but in principle you should be able to see some return.
Break the Routine: All that said, my best reason to have stuck with the Reserve is it breaks up my work routine. I have enjoyed my civilian job, but at the same time, I don’t think I could sustain my efforts for more than a couple years without getting bored (call it the residual effect of the Active Duty PCS cycle). But the opportunity to do something else for two or three weeks each year breaks up what could devolve into monotony. By getting out of the office, I’m ready to go back to it.
If you do short-term contracting or seasonal work, Reserve military service is a great way to fill the gaps between jobs or during the offseason. If you have steadier employment it’s trickier to plan, but can still be worthwhile for the other benefits.
Wow, the Navy Reserve Sounds Awesome.
Why Would Anyone NOT Do It?
Because it takes a lot of time. Duh. If it was freakin’ easy everyone would join! (If you left Active Duty because you want to be free of the military, then BE FREE! Run away!) I spent a weekend out of town almost every month since early 2013 until I was mobilized. In my eldest daughter’s lifetime, I’ve spent more time away from home as a Reservist than on Active Duty! And people get mobilized and leave for months at a time. The only way to be sure that person isn’t you is to not be affiliated. I drew the short straw this time around. Oh, well. But for all the reasons described above, it is worth it to me. It isn’t to most people.