Pros & Cons of Joining the ReserveUpdated: May 16, 2023
Those considering joining the US Reserve Armed Forces must weigh the pros and cons of serving as a Reservist. And it’s not as easy as simply deciding you want to serve part-time in the military rather than going for a full time career in uniform.
There are nuances in each branch of service–some don’t want to join the Navy and would be happier in the Army, for example. Others may be interested in serving in one specific branch of service only. Whatever your motivations, there are things to know before making the commitment so that you make the most informed decision possible based on the pros and cons of becoming a Reservist.
The Various Branches Of The Reserve
Your options to become a reservist are as diverse as the number of military branches themselves. You can potentially join any of the following:
What do you need to do to join as a Reservist? Meeting the following basic standards is the start:
- U.S. citizenship or resident alien status required
- In general be between 17 and 42 years old (specific requirements will vary by branch)
- Pass an Armed Forces physical exam
- Pass the ASVAB or Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery
- Meet the minimum ASVAB eligibility standard for your branch of service
- Earn a “sufficient score” on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT)
- Meet service-specific requirements for your chosen branch of military service
- Be willing to commit to a specific range of service from three to eight years depending on the job, branch of service, etc.
Joining The Reserve: Circumstances Count
When talking about pros and cons of becoming a Reserve member, the first thing to enter into the “con” category is that you may not be able to rely on the experiences of those you know who have joined the Reserve if your circumstances aren’t similar.
What does that mean? If you are a civilian and want to become a member of the Reserve, your experience will be much different (not worse, just different) than those who joined as “prior service” active duty or as reservists in a different branch of the military. As a “con”, this basically means that you will need to do more personal research to learn what your experiences might be like under comparable circumstances.
On the “pro” side on this subject, your Reserve recruiter can pair you with others who have a similar circumstance to yours.
Are you a recent high school graduate interested in joining the Reserve while in college? Or are you already in the work force and interested but not sure how currently employed people manage both civilian careers and military duty? Your recruiter can help you talk to those who have actually had those experiences.
Pros And Cons Of Becoming A Reservist
This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of every complaint and perk associated with joining a Reserve unit, but it will address some of the more common issues starting with the commitment you must make to become a part-time military member.
Military Service Commitment
Pro: Reservists generally serve one weekend a month and two weeks per year in peacetime. That is a reasonable commitment even if you hold a full-time career. Your commitment remains stable from year-to-year in peacetime. Reservists drill for 48 periods or units per year, with a typical drill weekend consisting of four drill periods.
Con: During contingencies such as natural disasters, combat deployments, and other special circumstances this schedule is subject to change. You may be activated, deployed, placed on active duty, etc. with short notice in some cases.
Pro: Military training is provided including career field training. Those looking to break into a technical field may find that Reserve experience is a good stepping stone to experience in that field.
Con: You will be required to attend basic training the same as any military recruit. After basic training you may also be offered advanced training.
Pro: All Reservists participate in annual training for two weeks per year which earns you active duty pay for the duration of the training period.
Activation to Full-Time Service
Con: You may be activated to full-time service and this may be on an individual basis or as part of a unit activation. You could serve 30 days in a unit near your hometown or up to a year supporting a mission outside of the United States. Opting out of a deployment labeled involuntary is not an option.
Pro: You get military benefits when you serve in the Reserve. Your pay is based on your rank and time-in-service, and you get active duty pay during training periods.
There is free training to prepare you for your Reserve Component job. Reservists are offered TRICARE Reserve Select which is described by official sources as a “subsidized, fee-based health care coverage” program for reservists and their families when the military member is not on active duty.
Reservists on active duty for more than 30 days get comprehensive medical/dental care for free. Family members are offered health care coverage when the military member is activated for more than 30 days.
Con: The benefits you get tend to pale in comparison to full-time, active duty benefits in the same areas. This is a common complaint, and a fact of life in the Reserve.
Pro: There are Reserve education benefits offered via the Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserve (SR) and there are also options for earning the Post 9/11 GI Bill which can be transferred to spouses and dependents under the right circumstances.
Con: The education benefits offered require a minimum six-year commitment.
Balancing Military And Civilian Commitments
Pro: You are only required to serve one weekend a month and two weeks per year during peacetime. The pro is that federal law requires your employer to work with you to meet your Reserve commitment and the Reserve duty in peacetime is a reasonable commitment to make.
As a reservist, any time you are called to active duty for 30 days or longer you qualify for protections under the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act (SCRA). These protections begin on the date active duty orders are received and in certain cases the servicemember’s dependents may be eligible.
Con: If you fail to meet your weekend duty and training obligations, you are subject to a court-martial or other disciplinary action. The protections offered to you under federal law including SCRA are not helpful if you aren’t in good standing with your duty commitment.
The con section here includes noting that SCRA protections (credit, interest rate protections, other consumer assistance) are not offered to Reserve members unless they are activated for 30 days or more. The common complaint that active duty troops have it better, while not always applicable or relevant, is definitely a factor in this particular area.
Joining The Reserve As An Extension Of An Existing Military Career
Pro: As a prior-service Reservist you can begin a new civilian career and quit worrying about full time duty commitments.
Con: You can still be activated for full-time duty and/or be deployed overseas if required.
Pro: Prior-service Reservists who switch from active duty to reserve duty before reaching enough years to qualify for military retirement can still earn your retirement pay in the reserve branch of your choice. You won’t give up your retirement and you aren’t required to serve 24/7.
Con: You have to wait until age 60 at a minimum to draw your retirement pay in most cases, unlike those who hit a 20-year retirement on active duty. Those troops get their retirement pay right away. Reservists must meet specific criteria when they are transferring from active service to the Reserve in order to qualify for retirement pay:
- Be at least 60 years old (some may qualify to retire at age 50 depending on circumstances)
- Have at least 20 years of qualifying service
- Must have performed the last six to eight years of qualifying service while a member of the Active Reserve depending on circumstances in most cases
- The Reservist must not “be entitled, under any other provision of law, to retired pay from an armed force or retainer pay as a member of the Fleet Reserve or the Fleet Marine Corps Reserve”
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News