Leaving the active duty (AD) and transferring to the Guard or Reserves can be a scary time in your life. There is not a lot of information available to pilots preparing for this transition, which makes it easy to find frustrating pitfalls and speed bumps along the way. Just like flying a mission, intelligence and preparation are the keys to success. In order to help you navigate this transition, we’ve compiled a short list of steps you should take to ensure that you are successful.
Above All, Have a Plan
Having a plan for your transition from AD to the Guard or Reserves is the most important step a pilot can take. Knowing what you want for your family in the future will allow you to be able to start building towards that end goal. BogiDope recommends that you start to plan at least three years out. If you are inside that window, it is not a big deal—just realize that you may be behind the power curve compared to your competition for that coveted spot in your dream squadron.
There are many factors that can affect your path to separation from AD and your transition to your new Guard or Reserve unit. Stuff happens! Lengthy deployments, TDY’s, family emergencies, unexpected assignments and emerging global conflicts can make the best laid plans crumble in a heartbeat!
If you find that your plan for separation and transition starts to take an unexpected turn, don't waste time worrying. Communicate early on with the units you wish to apply to and be honest about your challenges. More often than not, you’ll find that the squadrons you are applying to are willing to work with you, especially when you give them plenty of time to adapt to any changes. Keeping them up to date about your transition plan is a sure way of engendering some good will and making sure they know you are still interested. Above all, keep your sense of humor and stay flexible through the process.
Bear in mind that there are actually two key events that you need to plan for during this transition: Choosing what Guard or Reserve units are you going to apply to and how exactly you are going to separate from the AD. Properly preparing for each of these phases of your major life change is the key to your ultimate success.
Choose Your Units: Apply Soon, Apply Often!
BogiDope recommends that each pilot start the application process as early as possible, and you should apply to as many units as you can. This cannot be stressed enough! There are many external factors that can affect your separation, and not all of them are under your control. If you wait until a few months before you leave AD and only apply to one unit, you aren’t leaving much room for the unexpected. Starting early and giving yourself plenty of options in terms of squadrons that are acceptable to you will increase your chances of success.
We can’t overemphasize the importance of applying to multiple units. In today’s environment, there are many highly qualified individuals that are leaving the AD. Some of those pilots are “keeping their cards close;” you might not know that they are actively seeking a Guard or Reserve slot.
You probably realize that there is competition for Guard and Reserve slots, but you might be surprised to find that competition for your desired squadron is unexpectedly high. Get ahead of the pack! BogiDope recommends that individuals start to contact the units they are interested in as far out as three years in advance and no later than one year prior to your separation. The earlier you make yourself known, the better!
It is important to note that many units try not to hire too many pilots that are in the same year group (year you commissioned). By spreading out the year groups, units can avoid bottle necks when it comes to promotions down the line. Applying early might put you ahead of others in your year group that apply later.
Make sure you find time to meet and greet your perspective squadrons, if possible. Having the unit know who you are early is valuable when it comes time to meet the hiring board—it is best to not just be a name on a piece of paper. Give yourself time to get to know your perspective Guard or Reserve units and give them a chance to get to know you as well.
Open the aperture of the potential units you wish to apply to. The more applications you make, the better your chances. Remember that you are interviewing the units as well! You might just find that the unit you thought would be a perfect fit turns out not be the best one for you and your family. Casting a wide net helps ensure that you get an offer to work for a Guard or Reserve unit that suits you best.
Separating From Active Duty—Know Your Escape Route!
Leaving the AD can be tricky. Knowing how to navigate the system is important to a smooth transition and the preservation of your sanity. Each person will have a unique situation that will affect how they separate from the AD; understanding what avenue you will take to separate is a complicated process for everyone. Most pilots will fall within two main categories: either they will have completed some form of an Active Duty Service Commitment (ADSC) and are eligible to separate, or they will be given an assignment which will allow them to “7-day opt out” of AD service.
Pilots who have completed their ADSC find themselves in the easiest possible situation to plan for. These individuals know when their ADSC is approaching and can apply for separation prior to the completion of their commitment. Notice we said that you must apply for separation! You cannot just wake up on the last day of your ADSC and say you are getting out tomorrow! Most situations will require you to notify your command at least 6 months out and set an actual separation date. This is a flexible date and is not set in stone, but it is best to make it as accurate as possible to avoid headaches throughout the process.
The 7-day option (opt) is a situation where pilots receive some form of an assignment, to include 365 day and/or 179 day options, and the individual intends to decline the assignment (provided their new assignment would take them past their ADSC). At this point, the pilot can decline the new assignment and enter what is known as the 7-day opt.
This is a complicated option. In general, the 7-day opt means that the declining member has seven days from the notification of the new assignment to inform the Air Force that they intend to separate and to set a separation date. Don't let the seven days fool you into thinking that this is a last minute option! This is a complicated process, so if you find yourself 7-day opting without a plan then you are really behind! If you do find yourself in this situation, then it’s best if you focus on finding a Guard or Reserve job first while you continue to navigate the process of 7-day opting.
The transition from Active Duty to the Guard or Reserves can be an exciting but a trying time in a pilot’s career. Having a plan, applying to as many units as you can, getting your name out there and making sure you understand how you’ll separate will make the task much easier for you and your family.