The Difference Between Types of Military

Updated: November 4, 2022

There are many different types of military service, and the nature of each service plays a very important role in determining eligibility for certain benefits for veterans, those currently serving and their family members.

The different types of military service will vary based on the type of commitment, (active duty, Guard or Reserve), the era of service when the military member began duty, the nature of the military discharge where applicable and other variables.

Types of Military Service: Beyond The Branch

For the purposes of this article, “types of military service” doesn’t refer to the branch of service such as the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Navy or Marine Corps.

Types of service here involve full- or part-time service, serving as a member of the National Guard versus the Reserve, the difference between a military veteran and a veteran who is also a military retiree, etc.

Defining Military Service

The definition of the word “veteran” can include the “legal” definition, as described in the Code of Federal Regulations, but it also has a specific interpretation when it’s time to claim Department of Veterans Affairs benefits that may or may not require further clarification.

What does this mean? For example, the VA official site states that a veteran is “legally” defined as anyone “who served in the active military, naval, or air service, and who was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable.”

The VA official website holds the definition above “explains that any individual that completed a service for any branch of armed forces classifies as a veteran” is applicable without the dishonorable discharge, but that other considerations may apply depending on the benefit, the veteran’s service record, current federal law and other factors.

Those who have successfully completed basic training, any advanced training after boot camp, and who have been on duty for a minimum required time period, which is subject to change via legislation, federal policy changes, etc, are considered to be veterans once they leave military service.

Veteran status is not offered to those who washed out of basic training, were administratively separated before completing initial training, were medically separated before finishing basic training or complete in advanced training after basic, etc.

Different Types of Military Service

Full-Time Active Duty

When you sign up for active duty military service, you are committing to the “regular” Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, Navy, or Coast Guard. Active-duty military service means you have signed up for availability 24 hours per day, seven days a week, may be deployed or reassigned to an overseas location, etc.

When we talk about “active duty” here, we are discussing those who signed up for regular military service and who did not intend to join the National Guard or the Reserve.

Guard and Reserve members may be called into active-duty status and may be eligible for certain Department of Defense and/or VA benefits as a result depending on the duration, location and nature of the service once activated. Those who are activated strictly for training purposes may not get the same consideration as those who are called to active service because of a real-world mission requirement.

National Guard

There are important differences between the National Guard and the Reserves; one such difference involves who is authorized to call up the National Guard and put members into active service, and whether that service is federal or not.

National Guard service is considered part time unless a Guardsman is called into active duty service. But not all active service counts toward VA benefits, such as education or medical benefits.

Unlike the Reserve, the National Guard falls under the jurisdiction of the individual state a particular Guard unit falls under. That means the Guard can be called into service by the governor or under the auspices of the federal government.

National Guard troops activated and serving on active duty under the governor’s orders (known as Title 38 call-ups) may find that active service does not count toward certain VA benefits; only federal call-ups (known as Title 10 activations or Title 10 call-ups) may be applied toward eligibility for certain VA benefits.

There are two National Guard options to choose from when enlisting; one is the Army National Guard, the other is the Air National Guard. Joining the Guard means committing to one weekend per month for training and roughly 15 days of active-duty training, which is not considered time applicable for VA benefits.

The Reserves

The Guard and Reserve are similar in that troops serving as Guard or Reserve members are considered part-time service members who can be called up to active duty service by the federal government in a Title 10 call-up. Title 10 activation for Reservists will count toward VA benefits depending on the duration of the active service, current legislation, DoD policy, etc.

Serving in a Reserve capacity means being a part-time soldier, Coast Guardsman, sailor, airman, or Marine subject to minimum training requirements, including being called to active duty for training. Active-duty training time does not count toward benefits.

Like the Guard, the president and secretary of defense can call upon the Reserves to provide support for military contingency operations, known as “Title 10 Call-ups” or federal duty.

But unlike the National Guard, the troops who serve as Reservists fall under federal jurisdiction. The governor of your state cannot order Reserve troops to active duty to support in-state disaster relief operations, for example, or any other type of state-level emergency.

However, a state governor is permitted to request the assistance of Reserve forces. The Secretary of Defense can order Reserve troops to active duty for up to 120 days in times of a natural disaster or emergency.

Active Guard/Reserves Program

The Active Guard/Reserves program was designed for Reserve and National Guard members who are on full-time active duty.

“To make sure that National Guard and Reserve units are ready to mobilize at all times” the VA official website stated, “AGR members provide daily operational support.” AGR duty is considered adjacent to full-time active service for the purposes of calculating or approving VA benefits.

The Individual Ready Reserve

This is a type of military service included in a standard military contract; a typical military service commitment lasts eight years total, with a specified amount of that time spent on active duty or as a member of the Guard/Reserves.

The time that is not spent actively serving (as opposed to serving on active duty) is considered “inactive” time during which the military member may technically be a civilian for all intents and purposes, but still remains subject to recall to active service. That inactive time is when the military member is classified as a member of the Individual Ready Reserve or IRR.

The IRR works like this: a military member who chooses to enlist serves for years on active duty (or otherwise serving as a Guard or Reserve member), and then chooses not to reenlist. The original enlistment was for eight years, but the last four of those are spent on IRR status. IRR members do not train, they do not attend monthly drills or annual meet ups; they also do not draw military pay for IRR status.

Generally, after serving four years, a member is transferred to the IRR for their final four years. IRR members don’t take part in weekend drills or annual training, but they don’t get paid either. IRR members can be recalled into active duty when necessary.

During IRR status, the time spent inactive doesn’t count toward veterans benefits, unless the member is recalled into active duty.


About The AuthorJoe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News


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