Leaving active duty was an uncertain, but exciting time in my life. Like those who had gone before me, I dreamed of growing out my hair, traveling anywhere I wanted, and taking a break from mandatory PT.
The urge to drop everything, pack the uniforms away, and put military life in the rearview mirror is a strong one. That idea of complete liberation crossed my mind many times over the years.
But as someone who never planned on being a "lifer," being a part-time weekend warrior made my transition from active duty easier than expected. That is why when I talk to people who are preparing to separate from the military, I often ask them, "Have you thought about the Reserves?" (And no, I'm not a recruiter.)
Here are five simple reasons why you ought to consider going into the reserves to help make your transition into civilian life a springboard instead of a stumbling block:
1. Money for Education. When the Department of Veterans Affairs is actually making its payments on time, the GI Bill is very generous. It covers tuition, housing and book costs. But everything else comes out of pocket. That is why, in addition to my wonderful wife, I thank the Reserves for getting me through law school. I had guaranteed income each month, along with the two additional weeks that I did each summer. What other dignified part-time job provides decent pay and great benefits (e.g. Tricare Reserve Select) to work only one weekend a month?
2. Travel. With the exception of certain deployments, one of the best parts of being in the military is the opportunity to travel. You can still travel in the Reserves. In fact, some units encourage it. Although my drills are in the same location each weekend, I make it a point to schedule my annual tour somewhere abroad. For example, last year I went to South Korea for an exercise. It was an amazing experience.
3. Professional Growth. When you land your first civilian job, odds are that you'll be older than your professional peers. It can be frustrating to start at the bottom, especially after all the previous responsibility you had. That's why putting on my uniform for the Reserves feels so rewarding. It allows me to grow as a professional and keep my leadership skills sharp for when I get called upon to take on more senior roles with my civilian employer.
4. Service. The reason many of us joined the military was to serve when our nation needed us. As a result, the military spent a lot of time and resources to train us. It's difficult to walk away from something after you devoted so much time and energy into perfecting your tradecraft. So, while we gave the military some of the best years of our lives, my guess is that we all have much more to give.
5. Job Security. Even the most thoughtful and well-organized plan needs a backup. The Reserve was mine. Worst-case scenario, the economy takes a downturn and I'm left scrambling to find full-time employment. Today, I'm confident that, if that situation ever arose, my unit would do its best to bring me on orders until I found something sustainable. That's what makes the military more than just another job: It's like an extended family that looks out for you.
It has been six years since I left active duty. I'm still in the Reserves and have more control over my life than I've ever had. It's been a true win-win.