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considering Military Reserves
Old 10-23-2008, 03:46 AM   #1
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considering Military Reserves

I have skimmed over Air Force Reserve : Living Locally, Serving Globally and have thought about a career in the Reserves since joining this forum and reading the various threads about it. Right now I don't mind my first-term airman career, but I don't know if I'll like it for 20years. I'm going to take the AFOQT soon, but studying for that and the E-5 promotion test while deployed sucks right now.

I'm also having trouble getting a response from anyone from the Reserve's website, and I was hoping some of ya'll could help school me on life outside of Active Duty. Too many times I've seen 8+ year NCO's hate life, and I don't want to be in that position.

My main concern are the benefits. I don't believe I am paying anything for medical, dental, etc. I am also using the 100% tuition assitance to pay for school (going to work on my Master's after I come home from deplyment). I am also enrolled in the $400k SGLI. Would any of this continue? What are the changes from AD to reserves if there are any?

I have also paid off my MGIB payments, but the new educational benefits are supposed to kick in sometime Aug 2009. I have read that I would need to stick around for 10yrs before I could give the benefits to my kids (if I ever have any). I'd like to have that option so I don't have to save for their education, and it is unlikely I'll use them. Is this even a reason to stay AD though?

In my line of work I have been told (aka military rumors) that if I could get a civilian career at a Joint Operations then the likely hood of getting AD orders is pretty high. I wouldn't mind it since I was also told that if I go on AD I would still get my civilian paycheck in addition to my AD Reserves check. Does this have any truth to it? Would I be able to pick where I want to go? I was hoping to pick up another Fed job while I was in the Reserves (as an "O" I hope).

I'm from Texas, but I wouldn't mind being stationed in Hawaii or any of the other big time places for my career field. The only real sticking point is that my BA isn't in some sort of math/science heavy degree, and I don't have much experience in what I do (other than my enlisted time). Everything I've seen on various job websites require 8+ years of experience.

Any tips?
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Old 10-23-2008, 09:56 AM   #2
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There are no medical benefits, unless you get orders to AD. Sometimes you can carry benefits after coming off a deployment too.

There is a GI bill, its changed since I got out. Seems to be pretty generous. In my state, when I was in the National Guard, I had free tuition to state schools, space available. I was never denied a seat tho.

Can still enroll in SGLI too. It is very hard for some people to balance part time military career with full time employment. The part time military can take over and I've seen people lose jobs while deployed. I've also seen people get great support. Some good compaines pay the difference in salary while you are deployed (most lose money while deployed) and really great ones pay full salary while deployed!

I was in the Army Guard. Given the OPTEMPO now a days, I probably wouldn't recommend it. The guard is mobilzed just as frequent as active duty now a days, so you may as well stay AD.
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Old 10-23-2008, 03:44 PM   #3
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First, consider that many of the veteran advisors on this board learned about the Reserves during the Cold War. It's a whole different Reserves today, and that's not necessarily a good thing. You want to get your AF Reserve advice from someone who's been doing it since 9/11, not before.

Each service's Reserve forces (and their National Guards, if applicable) are much different in policies & implementation. So your best advice would come from someone in the Air Force, and it'd be even better if they were Reserve or ANG. Guys like me are way too quickly out of our depth. With that disclaimer, here goes:

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I'm going to take the AFOQT soon, but studying for that and the E-5 promotion test while deployed sucks right now.
I'm afraid the only consolation I can offer is that the alternatives suck even worse.

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Too many times I've seen 8+ year NCO's hate life, and I don't want to be in that position.
Again, small consolation, but this is also very common. For many people, both officer & enlisted, the fun dries up after a few promotions. Achieving objectives as a team member is concrete and tremendously self-satisfying. Doing it as a team leader is frequently not so tangible or psychically rewarding. What an E-3 or O-2 could previously accomplish through direct hands-on action, E-6s & O-4s should only do by building teams and influencing people. Unfortunately for most that's nowhere near as enjoyable and not always why they joined the military. It doesn't carry enough improvements in pay or duty rotation privileges, either.

Navy submarines are commanded by "junior" O-5s with about 16-17 years of service. That career achievement is at least three years short of the earliest retirement and barely halfway to 30, let alone a flag officer's 35-year career arc. Yet I've heard dozens of submariners say that the most enjoyable job they ever had was in command. (Others say it was the only enjoyable job.) Maybe that's good to anticipate, but not so great in the rearview mirror. And when you're in the trenches as an O-2 division officer or an O-4 department head, it's really hard to see how the CO & XO are having such a fun-lovin' wild-eyed hard-partyin' time.

So when the fun stops for you, don't stick around longer than the end of the obligation. That's true in every service.

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Would any of this continue? What are the changes from AD to reserves if there are any?
The active-duty merry-go-round of benefits basically screeches to a halt. Unless you're on active duty for at least 30 days or longer, you generally no longer have health care or dental. (No complaints-- many civilians live with this every day.) You have medical/dental benefits when you're drilling (or proceeding to/returning from) or during your annual active duty. You still retain SGLI year-round but, if you're not getting paid for your Reserve duty, then you have to send SGLI the payments instead of having them deducted from your direct deposit.

You may still retain access to bases in America (not always overseas, and not in Japan or other countries with restrictive status-of-forces agreements) and you may still retain privileges at exchanges & commissaries. Navy used to restrict Reservists from exchange/commissary use but a few years ago they totally opened it up. I don't know if the AF Reserve ever had these restrictions or whether they still do. So my advice to an AF Reservist would be to go to Navy Exchanges...

The biggest difference is that you largely become your own assignment officer. You may have to commit to a deployment, either solo or with a unit, but you can pretty much choose what unit you join and how often (above the minimum requirement) you drill. If you'd prefer to avoid drilling or deployments for a while, you could always go to the Inactive rolls and later re-apply to return to drilling status. However there have been exceptions to this for people in niche skills.

Another nice benefit is that your active-duty time counts toward a Reserve retirement. The retirement starts paying at age 60 (instead of the day you retire from active duty) and the calculation is a little different, but you are protected against inflation. When your retirement pay starts, it's based on the pay scale in effect that year, and it's based on the maximum longevity scale for that rank. So if you retired from the AF Reserve in 2025 as an O-5 with 20 years of service and started collecting your retired pay in 2047, your retirement pay would be based on the 2047 pay tables at the rank of O-5 with over 22 YOS.

Every Reserve career is very different, but many Reservists drill for the equivalent of 90 days per calendar year, more if they're mobilized, until they reach 20 years of service. They collect an age-60 pension that's approximately one-quarter to one-third of their active-duty contemporaries (who started collecting immediately at retirement). Not as good as active duty but it beats the snot out of counting on Social Security.

Due to the Navy's promotion-tracking system, getting promoted as a Reserve officer is much much easier than getting promoted on active duty. I'd call this unfortunate in a few cases, but my spouse has personally benefited from the system so I'm not gonna complain. It might be similar in the AF Reserve.

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I have also paid off my MGIB payments, but the new educational benefits are supposed to kick in sometime Aug 2009. I have read that I would need to stick around for 10yrs before I could give the benefits to my kids (if I ever have any). I'd like to have that option so I don't have to save for their education, and it is unlikely I'll use them. Is this even a reason to stay AD though?
No. Your parents didn't pay for your college degree, and mine didn't pay for mine. In general you should not sacrifice your health (or your saving for retirement) for the sake of your kid's college educations. For your kids, maybe, but not for their educations. It'd be very convenient if your life worked out to provide for their college costs, but it's in no way necessary.

Imagine yourself during an IED attack thinking "My kids will thank me for taking care of their college tuition!"

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In my line of work I have been told (aka military rumors) that if I could get a civilian career at a Joint Operations then the likely hood of getting AD orders is pretty high. I wouldn't mind it since I was also told that if I go on AD I would still get my civilian paycheck in addition to my AD Reserves check. Does this have any truth to it? Would I be able to pick where I want to go? I was hoping to pick up another Fed job while I was in the Reserves (as an "O" I hope).
I'm from Texas, but I wouldn't mind being stationed in Hawaii or any of the other big time places for my career field.
Funny you should mention Hawaii. PACOM HQ fills over one-third of its active-duty billets with Reservists on orders. Reservists occupy most of the watch floor and nearly all of the crisis-action team watchstanders. Some of them skip from one 29-day assignment to the next while others have elevated it to an art form consisting of years of consecutive 179-day orders or even mobilizations. In between orders, many of them work in the same spaces as civil-service or contractors. The corporate memory is incredible-- far better than most active-duty commands.

One Navy Reserve O-4 teaches at Iolani High School and drills on weekends. During summer & winter breaks he picks up active duty orders. If he finds something interesting, like a hard-fill request for 180-day staff duty in Kosovo (perhaps with European travel opportunties) then he takes a leave of absence from the school. I've heard urban legends of another O-4 who's a ski instructor in the Colorado Rockies and spends the rest of the year on 180-day hard-fill overseas assignments. Of course this is a lot easier without a spouse or kids.

Another Navy O-5 works as a PACOM contractor and drills on the side. He's gone back & forth between active-duty stretches and contractor jobs. His spouse just retired from active duty and their two kids are finishing high school. They've been here for over a decade.

An AF Reserve E-6 has been in one office more or less continuously on active-duty orders of one kind or another for over four years, starting when she was an E-5.

If you have a brain and work well with others, the jobs are there. Once you get into the network you have no problem putting together a string of short-term assignments... or even getting mobilized. During spouse's two-week stints of active duty, she used to be pouty-faced if she wasn't offered a civil-service job or contract by day three.
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Old 10-23-2008, 07:13 PM   #4
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After my Army enlisted time I spent a bout 2 yrs in the reserves before getting comissioned in the Air Force. I went to the resreves for a little more paycheck while in college. I remember the ads one weekend a month and two weeks a year. I don't think that is the norm today.

For the most part I know how we use reserves on AD. We basically let them work as much as they want. At least in the AF they appear to be very integrated into how we operate. From what I can tell we don't distinguish who is who but rather by rank.

There is no doubt you are going to have ups and downs with your time in the military. I really enjoyed my E time but must admit being an O is much better for me at least.

I guess what is your driving motivation of reserves vs AD? I know you have talked about getting comissioned. What about the prep school route then to the Zoo? I will tell you first hand the prior enlisted guys do ok on the hill.

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Old 10-23-2008, 07:53 PM   #5
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I guess what is your driving motivation of reserves vs AD? I know you have talked about getting comissioned. What about the prep school route then to the Zoo? I will tell you first hand the prior enlisted guys do ok on the hill.
Currently I have no real motivation to go into the Reserves. What I normally TRY to do is educate myself with all my available options, and learning about the Reserves is one of them. I would have never considered it if it wasn't for the military folks on this forum . I'm going to stay on AD as long as I can, but I don't think it'll ever stop me from taking a peek on what the federal civilian side has to offer.

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Funny you should mention Hawaii...
I've heard stories just like what you've told me, and it seems like if I can go that route I'd probably end up being in the military for 30+ years . Not sure if it'll still be fun at that point in my life, but the possibility seems to be much higher.

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So when the fun stops for you, don't stick around longer than the end of the obligation.
Will do .

NOTE: Today I was talking to a SMSgt who happens to be an AGR (active duty Guard Reserve i think?) and she wants to set me up with one of her old bosses that happens to be on base. Before today I had never even heard of it.
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Old 10-23-2008, 10:21 PM   #6
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AGR can be a great arrangement for some folks. You can stay in one spot (no moves every few years) and you get al the benefits (incl retirement at 20 years) of AD. But, it doesn't have the job security of AD-slots can go away, and then you are in trouble.
You ask a lot of good questions, and I don't have the authoritative answers you need. So, keep pressing the Reserve recruiters for answers. Honestly, an even better source is Reservists/Guardsmen themselves. Every one I met was very much in tune with the benefits available, programs, etc. As Nords mentions, these guys are their own assignments officers--but they have also learned the ropes and are much more in tune with the availabe benefits and ways to get them than is your typical AD person. They are generally used to being self-reliant and figuring the angles for themselves--and they have good networks developed. Your career field has many Reservists. Find one, make a friend, and start asking questions.

Every case is different, and you've gotten some good advice. Here's my take, and it's only my opinion: Staying AD until 20 has a lot of benefits. I know that there are many who jump ship at 10 years and go to AFRES or ANG, and some are happy they did it. Many are not, and they greatly regret leaving AD. Yes, you'll have some crummy assignments, but you can have crummy "assignments" in the civilian world, too. If you can grit your teeeth and make it to 20 with your integrity and health intact, you'll have earned a check every month, starting immediately, for the rest of your life. Not a huge check, but if you LBYM, it can be enough to meet your basic needs. You'll be less than 45 years old--still young and able to enjoy your leisure time. Maybe you'll be able to quit working entirely (if you save your pennies starting now). Maybe you'll need to/want to get another job. But, with your health care covered and your basic needs covered every month, you've got a TON of options. You can start a small business. You can do a job you'll really enjoy and not worry about trying to make the highest salary. An immediate AD retirement buys a lot of freedom.
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Old 10-23-2008, 11:29 PM   #7
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Ninja,

I am currently a drilling mobilized reservist in the Navy. I was a "weekend warrior" from '93-'99, then went on AD as a recruiter, back to reserve status in '05. Nords is correct when he mentions the differences in Reserve life "then" and "now." I have been "mobilized" for a year, but I am stateside as the demobilization supervisor here in Norfolk, VA. My civilian employer pays me differential pay (I get the difference between my salary and my military base pay - every two weeks!) Base pay, BAS, BAH (for home in NJ!!!) and per diem here. I am eligible for Tuition Assistance (now going to grad school, because I'd be a moron not to take advantage of someone else paying half to most of my tuition!), and utilizing the COOL program to foot the bill for my SPHR exam in Jan. I know plenty of AFReserve folks back in NJ....many are mobilized now...hey, you could always join the Navy Reserve, and between Nords and I, you cannot go wrong! Feel free to PM with any weird questions about a stateside mob. or general reserve stuff. I too hope to be commissioned as an "O" (fingers crossed - next summer!)
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Old 10-24-2008, 08:46 AM   #8
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I always thought AGR was a great gig. My unit admin NCOs and supply SGTs were AGR soldiers. They were the people at the armory full time. They worked hard too. It's pretty much 1 weekend a month, 2 weeks in the summer, until you get promoted a few times. Then there are many unpaid training meetings, phone calls, and other leadership duties that must be done in prep of the monthly drill.

I was in the Guard from 1985 to 2006. There was a huge change after 9/11. As I mentioned earlier, Army Guard deployments are just about as frequent and sometimes longer than regular Army deployments. In the Army's case, IMO, you may as well stay active duty.
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Old 10-26-2008, 05:27 PM   #9
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I'm late to this (as usual!) and have a unique perspective. I am an O-5 who is a squadron commander in the Reserves at Travis, my husband is active duty military and has been stationed at EUCOM. I will hopefully be finding an IMA job at EUCOM and doing MPA days at my pace - because I'm local here in Germany, they don't have to pay per diem or travel and if I do 5 day orders at each time, they don't have to worry about the other "stuff." If you have orders for 179+ days, you are technically PCSed and get even more beneifts. I don't need those as I am covered under my husband.

Now, about the AF Reserves - I have been a Reservist for 19 years now - I have been an IMA, Unit Reservist, done EAD (extended active duty), long term manday orders - have not deployed---officially, but I've been to some nasty places (and nice ones, too).

Nords has done a good job of outlining what comes and goes as a Reservist versus AD. The biggest change I've seen is that we are fully integrated into the 'Total Force.' The ID cards and full access to facilities is an example - we used to only get 12 visits a year to the commissary - now it's all time access. As Reservists, you can have your commander sign a piece of paper to allow you to hop around on flights (similar to AD). Legal support is only for wills and issues dealing with deployment, etc, not as much access as the AD (oh and for any UCMJ issues you may have!).

The new GI bill has really changed and the benefits offered enlisted in terms of bonuses based on their AFSC is phenomenal. As a commander, I have had a trail of people beg me not to cut them off because they have unexcused absences for their UTA drills (unit training assembly, the weekend drill for TRs - traditional Reservists versus IMAs - individual mobile augmentees - the difference between the two is the TR is part of a Reserve unit and drills - their paperwork (OPR/EPR....) and support (medical, training) is done by the corresponding functional office of the Reserve unit, like the Mission Support Squadron for that Reserve unit (they are Reservists as well, either ARTS (Air Reserve Technicians or AGR - Active Guard Reserve - ART is a civilian during the week and a Reservist on the drill weekend - being able to stay enlisted or commissioned is requirement for civilian job - how do I know this, commander stuff.....the hard part of the commander stuff as in who do I let re-enlist....). An IMA works for the active duty and the active duty is responsible for the administrative overhead - if you are a straight IMA (24 or 48 IDTs a year and a 2 week annual tour), the active duty can complain that it is difficult to write your OPR/EPR as there might not be enough work to do an adequate one. However, as an IMA you can pick up mandays and possibly deploy (more on that later). As a TR in a unit, you are identified in an AEF bucket and when the bucket time comes, you will be asked to volunteer to fill a slot or you can be mobilized. AFRC is pushing hard on the volunteerism and not mobilizing. The Guard likes to mobilize. The difference between the two have to do with the approval authority (up to the President for mobilize) as well as some of the benefits one gets - I just saw a briefing that showed there were five things different between being mobilized and volunteering. Remember, with the Guard, you first work for the governor of the state and then when chopped over nationally, you are integrated into the force. As an IMA you must volunteer to deploy and frankly it is difficult to get a deployment if you want one (this might depend on your AFSC, however). IMAs are usually last on the list and based on the AFRC's response lately regarding IMAs, they at times don't like them because they can't control them as much (re, you work directly for the active duty and so AFRC's hold on you is tenuous at best).

As for retirement, Nords is right, you don't see anything until 60 - actually, 60 minus the number of days you've spent deployed. So if you've been deployed for five years worth of time, you will get your retirement benefits at 55. The pay is based on how many points you accrue and based on your rank and years of service, those point are worth so much each. There are different types of point - you need at least 50 to have a good year. 15 of those points are freebies - you get them for breathing. 12-14 of the points are annual tour and then the rest are UTAs or IDTs. UTA and IDT points are for 4 hours of work (you get paid double for a weekend or IDT). You can only have so many of the RPA points a year (up to 75 I believe) that will count towards retirement - RPA are the IDT and certain types of school points (your PME counts up to 75 points a year - there are also some other on-line or correspondende school you can take for points). MPA points are paid by the active duty and count one for one (8 hours is one point) and there is no limitation (except 365 per year!).

I have opportunities in the Reserves that I would not have had in my civilian career - however, at times it has been difficult to balance the two. I do not work in the military or defense industry for my civilian job, however, the former employer I had was very understanding. I have since resigned from that company to be with my husband here in Germany. I did come here on my own as a Reservist for close to 4 years and they took me back at my old job. I couldn't do that to them this time and in any case, my husband and I are close to retiring anyhow.

What is great is that so far, I believe I will be fortunate to pick up some days and get paid while over here as an O-5. It will be as an IMA which will mean I don't work on the weekends and will need to do the IDTs during the week. That can be difficult to manage with your civilian job (you might be taking your vacation to work - which I have done).

Now as for being a commander - I would have to say I was not prepared for what was expected of me, however, some aspects of the job have been very rewarding. I myself was a very reluctant commander and frankly never had that ambition. However, as I have been trained and led, I understand when called, I must do my best. As for cross pollination in training, etc, I have been able to make the leadership and communication training I received in the Reserves serve me in my civilian job. Additionally, the diversity training and consensus style of leadership at my civilian job has tempered my style to be more collegial and less authoritative in the military. I believe that has made me a better commander - however, I can ratchet up the authoritarian style, if needed :-)

Money-wise, you can work part-time in the Reserves and still do well. You still have access to TSP (which you can max out) and every day you work you are contributing to the pension as well as to a paycheck for yourself. You are covered medically if you are on status, i.e., on orders of some sort. As a commander I do LOD determinations often and if anyone is covered with a 40A, MPA or RPA order and they are injured, then they are covered by the military medical system. With regard to your family, I believe that only kicks in after a consecutive 30 day order.

I hope the above explains things....as best as I know them. Sorry if it rambled a bit - the Reserve, frankly, is complicated and I didn't know a lot of the stuff above until much later in my Reserve career. Good luck in your decision.
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Old 10-27-2008, 12:29 PM   #10
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Nice posts Nords & Deserat!
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Old 10-27-2008, 04:27 PM   #11
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If you get to a point where you are considering either an ART or AGR postion, I would reccommend the ART gig. As an ART, you are a regular civil service federal employee under Title 10 of the US Code. That means you have all the same rights and protections as all other federal employees. AGR's and some other military technicians are under Title 32, which covers "excepted service" folks, and they have fewer rights and employment protections. May not sound like a big deal, but believe me it could be. If you have any inclination to pursue a career with the federal government as a civil service person, you will find the ART route a great avenue towards that end. Or, you might even like being an ART and just stick to that awhile. I did 4 1/2 years active duty Air Force, my AFSC was 462X0 (now it's a 2W1X1). I loaded bombs, missiles & bullets onto F-4 fighter jets. After I left active duty (E-5) I joined the USAF Reserves and took an ART job in Austin, TX. Loved it, stayed there in Austin for 15 years till the BRAC closed the unit & base. Moved to Barksdale AFB, LA & continuted my ART career, for 13 more years, till a couple of months ago when I decided that 31 years of working on aircraft weapons systems was enough. I applied and was selected for a QA job with the Defense Contract Management Agency. Upside was a promotion & paid PCS move. Got my realtor fees reimbursed other bennies. I had to move the family to Wisconsin, which is nice enough, but it's October and I've already seen snowflakes! I guess the cold weather would be the downside. The job's great so far. I only have 4 yrs, 2 mos. & 23 days till I retire. Shoulda made this career move 10 yrs ago. Nevertheless, what I'm saying is if you're looking for a springboard into a federal career, the ART program is a heckuva way to do it. If you go AGR, being that it's considered excepted service, you don't have the same job transfer rights you'd have as an ART which is competitive service. There are many, many federal positions out there for you to apply for, if you meet qualifications, but if you're an ART you already have a foot in the door. Not neccessarily so as an AGR or even as any kind of ANG or Army Guard employee. All excepted service instead of competitive. There's a huge distinction between the two. Feel free to email me if you have any specific questions regarding the ART world. PS...I tentatively am going to stay in the reserves for another 18 months, at which time I will have reached my high year of tenure, at 33 years. I have found a position in an airlift wing over at Pope AFB, NC. I'll have to fly on a C-130 once a month from Milwaukee to get there. Kind of a bummer, but Pope's only 1 hr. from my hometown, so it might be worth it to get some free trips to visit family & friends. Like I said, you can email me or PM.
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