FORT KNOX, Ky. -- When Christopher Banks joined ROTC at the University of Virginia, his goal was to earn an active duty slot once he commissioned. But the more he thought about serving the nation and the opportunities his personal and professional development through the program could unlock, he wondered why he couldn't pursue careers both in and out of uniform. So he opted to be detailed into the Army Reserve, placing him among 1,500 recent commissionees this year who chose to serve in a Reserve component versus active duty. "I wanted to get my civilian career started as soon as possible," said Banks, who commissions this month. Many Cadets seek to serve on active duty. Over the years, being assessed into the Reserve component has carried with it something of a stigma. Those who aren't given an active duty slot sometimes equate their overall ROTC performance as less-than-stellar. That, of course, isn't the case, as evidenced by legions of commissionees who have built successful military and civilian careers.
There are many avenues Cadets travel to find sound employment. They network. They market themselves. They also tap into the Army's Partnership for Youth Success program, commonly known as PaYS. The program doesn't guarantee employment, but enables nearly 500 businesses across the country, including a number of Fortune 500 companies, to communicate with and interview prospective talent being developed in ROTC. "Reserve components produce general officers and equally important, the Reserve and National Guard need top-notch second lieutenants," said Lt. Col. Tao, the professor of military science at Santa Clara University in California. "The amount of opportunities existing in the reserve component sometimes exceeds those on active duty.
"In my three years as a PMS, two of my No. 1 (senior) Cadets who ranked in the top 150 in the nation have chosen to go into the Reserve as a lawyer and into the Minnesota National Guard as an infantry officer. It's not what component you get that will make you successful in the Army but how hard you work once you get into it that will be most important."
A number of Cadets heading to a Reserve status say not being on active duty opens up an array of opportunities beyond the military. Using the leadership skills he honed at the University of Virginia, Banks successfully touted himself as someone who could be an asset to a civilian company. The Italian language and literature major landed a position as an account specialist with Choice Hotels in Washington, D.C. His role, which begins in June, will be to serve as a liaison, coordinating events between corporate clients and Choice properties in the nation's capital. In December, Banks' focus shifts to the Basic Officer Leaders Course at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., where he will be spend four months training as a military intelligence officer. Banks, who originally was supposed to attend BOLC until he received a job offer, said management at Choice understands his obligation to the Army and are supportive of his service. "I made it clear at the beginning that I have this obligation," Banks said. "They know I wanted to serve my country." Starting with Choice before schooling allows Banks to get his footing with the company, he said. Besides, winter tends to be a slower time of year for the hotel industry, and he expects to be back as business picks up. As for the military, serving as a Reserve officer, Banks said, makes him more versatile.
"You're making yourself a well-rounded individual by pursing two careers and a wanted person by companies that know you have certain qualities others applying won't have," he said. "The training we get is invaluable. That makes us better in the Army and in our civilian careers." His advice to other Cadets being assessed into a Reserve component: Weigh your options, and don't be discouraged. "Be aware there are other pathways to get to where you want to go," Banks said. "My ROTC experience set me up for success. No question."
Second Lt. Brandy Warner, who commissioned earlier in May, also plans to balance two careers at the same time -- one as a future aviator with the Massachusetts Army National Guard and the other as a project engineer with Ensign Bickford Aerospace and Defense Company in Simsbury, Conn. Warner believes highlighting her ROTC skills during her interview at Ensign Bickford sold the company on her potential.
"I brought up many of these (leadership and management) qualities. With each quality, they were more and more impressed." Like Banks, Warner planned to go active duty, but her goal changed after learning about internship opportunities at Ensign Bickford. "After a year of interning, I had a feeling that there was a good chance of getting a full-time civilian job at Ensign Bickford," she said. "As time progressed, the reality of joining the MAARNG became more and more evident.
"I had a six-month plan on accepting a job offer at Ensign Bickford, I was planning a wedding, I was drilling with my unit as a Simultaneous Membership Program Cadet and I loved it. It really seemed that one thing after another fell into place."
She said Cadets need to be honest with both sides concerning expectations when planning a dual career. By being upfront about her military career with Ensign Bickford and vice versa, she has the freedom to work full-time, take a leave of absence when she starts flight school at Fort Rucker, Ala., in March 2014, and then return to Ensign Bickford. While she is excited to have a way to balance both careers, she knows doing each successfully will take planning and time management, two skills she learned in ROTC. Jack Schneeman, a finance major at Santa Clara University, also wants to work full-time after he completes an internship. Once he commissions as an infantry officer in mid-June, he'll intern at Dougherty and Company, a boutique investment bank firm in Minneapolis. He'll shadow one of the firm's senior vice presidents through the summer.
After infantry BOLC and Ranger School at Fort Benning, Ga., later this year, he hopes to return to Dougherty as full-time analyst. He'll also serve as an infantry officer with the Minnesota Army National Guard. When Schneeman started ROTC, he was adamant about going active duty. However, after a few years in Santa Clara's Leavey School of Business, he became passionate about pursuing a career in the private sector while simultaneously continuing to serve after ROTC.
Schneeman plans to pursue the entrepreneurial spirit that's found in Silicon Valley by starting his own business.
"Joining the Reserves or National Guard is still serving your country, and it's grateful to you," he said. "You will also have a lot more freedom in career choice, residence locations and can get competitive pay. The ROTC experience you've earned over the past four years helps make you desirable for an immense array of civilian positions. You'll able to find a position that fits your interests, and they will value your military and leadership experience." Schneeman also recommends Cadets be proactive and seek help with resumes and applications while still at school. Reach out to all the employers you're interested in. Learn as much as you can about them as you prepare for interviews. "Do not take your Reserve position lightly," he said. "Just because you weren't able to get the active duty slot you hoped for, you'll still be leading Soldiers at the end of the day. You owe it to them to give it your best."