5 Things to Consider when Choosing Active vs. Reserve Duty

New recruits participate in swearing-in ceremony
New recruits swear in during the Army Reserve Mega Event in Whitehall, Ohio, June 22, 2013. The mega event was an Army Reserve job fair for current and future soldiers. (Spc. Andrew Baba/U.S. Army)

Choosing whether to enlist as an active-duty vs. reserve service member is one of the primary choices that will shape your military career. The benefits of each option are varied and should be considered in total to chart the path to your career goals. In choosing which path to take, consider these five aspects of your enlistment to determine which status of duty is right for you.

Your Civilian Career

Your career when you return to the civilian ranks is one of the most important factors of your military enlistment decision. The role you play within the military will enable you to launch and continue a successful career once your days of serving end. As an active-duty service member, you will be required to forgo starting your civilian occupational career for a period of at least two years. The benefits of choosing to enlist as active duty include being immersed in your chosen occupational specialty and gaining the insight and experience that comes with full-time work in your field.

As a reservist, you will receive significant training for your chosen vocation but will have to transfer that training immediately into a civilian career pursuit without the benefit of on-the-job training. As a reservist, you will have the chance to practice your trade one weekend per month and two weeks per year. The benefit of choosing reserve status is the ability to further your education and begin working as a civilian right away.

Active Duty vs. Reserve Compensation

Though it might not be the most important part of your decision, the compensation you will receive after enlistment is an aspect that has stark differences, depending on whether you choose to serve as an active-duty member or reservist.

Duty Station

Active-duty service members are often granted basic choice in where they will be stationed after recruit training and military occupational specialty school - called Advanced Individual Training (AIT) for Army soldiers. Active-duty enlistees can be stationed anywhere within the United States or abroad, depending on the duties and mission of their respective unit. Reserve status members will be stationed near their home and only be subject to international station in the event they are called for active duty.

Leave and Liberty

Leave and liberty are forms of "vacation" for active-duty members. Leave is accrued at a rate of 2.5 days per month, or 30 days per year. Active-duty members coordinate their leave with their units, and such leave is subject to the approval of the unit's commanding staff.

Liberty is any period of time when active-duty members are technically "off from work," such as weekends and holidays where you are absolved from duty unless otherwise instructed. Liberty is commonly available for 24, 48, 72 or 96 hours and comes with restrictions related to the distance members are allowed to travel and corresponding to the length of liberty granted. The longer the liberty, the farther members can venture away from their duty stations.

Reserve members are not subject to normal leave and liberty conditions, as they are only obligated for two days per month and one Field Training Exercise (FTX) per year. In the event that reservists are called into active-duty service, their leave and liberty will mirror the requirements and conditions of those normally serving active duty.

Other Benefits

Active-duty members receive full medical and dental benefits as well as unlimited post exchange and commissary access. Active-duty members may be stationed within the United States or abroad. They can retire with full benefits after 20 years of service.

Reservists receive full medical and dental benefits only if called for active-duty service. They are afforded unlimited access to post exchanges and may be limited to 24 commissary visits per year. Reserve members are stationed near their home for weekend and two-week drill and training duties unless called into active service. Reservists can retire after 20 years of service with modified retirement benefits.

This article was written by Sgt. Michael Volkin, lead instructor at Basic Training University, an online learning school for those preparing for basic training.

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