Once you have made the decision to exit active duty (AD), the next big decision to make is where and in what capacity you want to continue to serve. For most of us it’s easy: we pick a Guard or Reserve unit close to home or we choose a unit that executes the same mission we did on AD. Herein lies one of the greatest pitfalls those leaving AD fall into—many officers fail to realize how valuable their skills are. Lacking this realization, they don’t shop around among the plethora of options that are available.
Much like AD, the Guard and Reserves are in desperate need of officers in all career fields. Unbeknownst to many, some of the same great deals that can be had on AD are also available to those in the Guard or Reserves. The skills you bring from the AD have a place in the Guard or Reserves—you just have you to go find the unit that is right for you. BogiDope's interactive map and job board can be one of your top resources for finding information about these units.
Here is a list of five reasons why you should shop around and explore many different units:
1. Your Skills
I can’t emphasize enough how important the skills you bring from the AD are to the Guard or Reserves. These organizations need your skillset, in whatever career field you might have served in, and they need them ASAP. Most likely, you worked hard on AD to make yourself marketable and now is your time to highlight those skills. Whether it be upgrading early to be an instructor or executing a Mission Commander upgrade at Red Flag—all of those qualifications make you more valuable to your future unit. Other important career broadening opportunities, such as safety school or intermediate education, are feathers in your cap that will help future units once they hire you.
If you are still currently on AD, but are looking to separate in the future, continue to seek opportunities to build your resume. Do not let yourself fall into the trap of knowing you are going to separate in the future and just riding it out; it’s a mistake to choose not to upgrade or to continue to enhance your resume. Once you start the interview process with potential units, you never know if that last qualification will be the one that gets you hired.
Don't sell yourself short! Those extra quals you obtained while on AD might be the exact quals needed at your future unit. Remember, Guard and Reserve units are going to hire the best if they can. The more you can offer your future unit, the better your chances are of getting a job at the unit that works best for you.
2. Find the Type of Orders You Want
All of the units across the globe have very different needs. With those varying needs come different types of orders to accomplish their mission. If you are looking for part-time work because you want to seek a civilian job as your full-time employment, then look for units offering Drill Status Guardsmen (DSG) or Traditional Reservist (TR) positions. If you are looking for full-time employment in the Guard or Reserves, then look for units offering Active Guard Reserve (AGR) or Technician positions.
Do not be discouraged if you can’t find the exact type of orders you want initially. It’s possible that the positions you are seeking might be filled; you may have to wait until one of them becomes available. If that’s the case, many units can be inventive and work with you to pull resources together or use “temporary” orders to string together full-time employment for you—so don’t count them out.
Another option is to take a DSG or TR position and wait for one of the full-time positions to open up. While this is not a guarantee, be honest with your unit and tell them the type of orders you desire. More often than not, you’ll find them eager to help you make a soft landing at your new unit.
3. Change Career Fields or Aircraft
Leaving AD is exciting for most of us; for the first time our options are endless! We can choose to transfer our skills directly into the Guard/Reserves or we can take a completely different path. Choosing to stay in the same career field is easy and there is security in that. However, changing career fields shouldn't be ruled out. You are a proven commodity in whatever career field you executed while on AD. Units would love to have the skillsets you can provide based on your experience. Don't sell yourself short by not applying to units that have a different mission. Seize the opportunity and challenge yourself. The skills you gained on AD are more transferable than you think.
For those that fly, don’t be afraid to seek new opportunities to fly a different aircraft. While it will be difficult trying to transition from flying heavy aircraft to fighters, staying within those two “categories” is particularly easy. Units understand that if they only hire individuals from their same aircraft they will stovepipe the unit. Bringing in others from outside communities or services keeps the unit fresh and innovative; that is something that our Guard and Reserve forces need.
Are you a person that wants to fly but was unable to on AD? No worries! Continue to chase your dream in the Guard or Reserves. Just about every flying unit has pilot hiring boards every year to select interested new pilots. Assuming you are not older than 28 1/2 by the time you meet the board (waivers are available until 35 years of age), you should not hesitate to apply to those hiring boards. Understand that these hiring boards are very competitive and some only hire one pilot per year. Don't let that deter you! Instead, let that be motivation to continue to work hard and make yourself as marketable as possible.
4. Find the Right Fit
Finding the right fit is very important. For many of us who have made the transition, we plan to stay with our units for a much longer time then we ever stayed with any one unit on AD. Think of it this way: as much as the unit may be interviewing you, you are interviewing the unit.
Since you plan to stay with the unit you’re applying to for a long time, it is essential that you to make sure you that you get along with the members of that unit. These are people you’ll be spending lots of time with; make sure you can stand going on deployment with them. Additionally, you want to make sure your expectations are in line with theirs so that there are no surprises down the line. Remember—this doesn't have to be the only unit you apply to. Apply to other services in the DoD, too. Shop around carefully. If one unit is not a right fit for you then move on to the next.
5. Plant Roots Where You Want to Live
For those coming off of AD, this is one of the most important parts of the transition. For the first time in your career you get to choose exactly where you want to live. If you are fortunate enough to know exactly where you want to live, then start applying as early as possible to units in that area. The longer you wait, the less chance you’ll have of getting hired in a timely manner.
It is important to understand that many units hire well in advance, sometimes as much as 1-3 years out. Keep that in mind and make sure that you start applying early on so that you get the Guard or Reserve job that works best for you. Being able to live in the same city your unit is great for family life—but don't necessarily be discouraged from commuting to your new unit. It is really all about balance, and that work/family balance is different for everyone. Figure out what you want, then do the thing that makes the most sense for you and your family.