Time to Show Your Cards

BogiDope, F-16 executing air refueling.

Keep your cards close.  Don’t show your hand.  Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer.  These are a few colloquialisms that we have all heard, and they reflect a bit of the reality of Active Duty (AD) service.  For those of us considering leaving AD for the Guard or Reserves, those words take on a whole new practical meaning:  how do we know when the right time is to spill the beans about our future career plans?  How much information about our hopes for our career beyond AD do we really have to share?  Those are the questions that this article will help you to answer.    

Looking back, the one thing I didn’t realize while I was still on AD was that 70% of the pilots who would be in my new Guard squadron had once been in my shoes; they too had to navigate the potential minefield of separating from AD and moving on to the Guard.  Sure, there were some “Guard/Reserve babies," but everyone else had to figure out the timing and mechanics of making the jump.  I wish some guidance and support had been available to me back then—that is the whole point behind BogiDope. 

It is important to know that when making this transition you are dealing with squadrons that no longer want you to “keep your cards close” like you did on AD.  Instead, Guard and Reserve units thrive on transparency.  In fact, these organizations rely on your honesty to build a plan for the future.  The fact that you are interviewing with them means that you are being considered to be an integral part of that organization’s success for the next 10, 20 or even 30 years.  Unlike the AD, when you join the Guard or Reserves, it’s more than a tour—it’s long term relationship without a contract.  

In addition to your new position being a “final destination” job, you might not fully realize that being in the Guard or Reserves means that you now get to make many career decisions based on what you want to do.  For example, when I 7-day opted my Intermediate Education (IDE) assignment on AD, I immediately became the black sheep of the squadron—it felt like I was kicked off of the team.  When I joined my Guard unit, I was pleasantly surprised.  Not only did they not care that I had turned down IDE, but they offered me an opportunity to reapply for IDE whenever it was right for me and my family. 

The point is this:  The Guard and Reserves have many of the same opportunities as the AD, and they are typically happy to help you make those opportunities work on your schedule.  Basically, the Guard and Reserves can give you a chance to reset your career; but the level to which you want to enhance your military resume is really up to you.  Do you want to be a Weapons School Graduate or Squadron Commander?  Or do you just want to fly airplanes and go home to your family? Do you want to serve for 30 years and have stars on your shoulder?  Whatever your desires are, they can all be achieved and there is a place for you.  Just make sure that you are honest with your new unit about what you want.  

In my personal experience, it was difficult to be honest with the Guard and tell them exactly what I wanted to do.  While I was still on AD, the fear that my name would be leaked for interviewing at the ANG was all-consuming.  What if it didn’t work out with the Guard and my name was leaked?  Maybe my AD career would be ruined!  Every conversation or email with the Guard ended in, “I haven’t told anyone I am talking with you, so can we keep this conversation between us?”  The resounding answer from the Guard every time was, “absolutely, we completely understand.” 

As we gain knowledge, sometimes our goals change.  In my case, being honest about my own changing goals was the key to making sure my family’s hopes and dreams were realized.  For us, leaving the AD was truly a trying time in our lives.  After interviewing with my home state’s Guard squadron, I was offered a full-time AGR (Air Guard Reserve…similar to active duty orders while in the Guard) position.  Imagine how ecstatic I was—leaving one full-time job and securing another full-time position with my home state's Guard squadron!  All of my fears were gone and the way forward seemed clear. 

However, as my separation grew closer, a few friends of mine started telling me about the hiring wave that was occurring in the airline industry.  After much careful consideration, I decided to pursue a career with the airlines.  But what about the Guard?  Now I had to tell my future commander, “thanks, but no thanks.”  Once I mustered up the courage to make that phone call, I was surprised by the positive response.  My new Guard unit appreciated the honesty and timeliness of my declination so much that they re-adjusted their manning/hiring process for the year to keep me in the unit.  Instead of being turned away for rejecting a coveted AGR position, I was offered a Drill Status Guardsmen (DSG…aka part-time) position.  

What I learned from my experience is that the Guard is making an investment in you every bit as much as you are making an investment in the Guard.  The Guard wants you in whatever capacity they can have you.  They are generally willing to maneuver in relationship to your desires so that you will want to be a member of their team for the long haul.  Afterall, this isn't just another three year AD sprint; it's more of a marathon and they recognize that desires will change throughout that period.

On AD I had grown accustomed to giving my all to each squadron that I was a member of and listening to my commanders tell me what carrot I had to chase next in order to achieve “my” next Air Force goal.  Often, this meant applying for positions or jobs that I truly didn’t want but somehow had convinced myself were best for my career.  To move from that environment to one where the organization was willing to change its processes to fit my plan for my family was mind-blowing.  It was a relief and I was excited to join a team that didn’t care in which what capacity I came to them in, they just wanted me there!

When you make the transition, know that you are dealing with others who have already run the gauntlet you are currently enduring.  Reach out to the members of the unit you wish to join.  More than likely you are going to be met with enthusiasm and a willingness to help you achieve your end goal.  Each member of the Guard squadron has their own story—some bad and some good.  Ask for advice and listen; you can learn from their stories to help make your transition smoother. 

Be honest with yourself, strive to understand what you want for your family and future and don’t be scared to go after it.  Make sure that you are honest with the unit you are applying to as well.  Remember they are looking to enter into a long term partnership with you.  Maybe you don’t entirely know what your end goals are right at the moment; be honest and tell the units to which you are applying exactly that.  Believe me, they understand.  

Take that next step of faith and pursue your dream.  I think you will find that when you’re open and honest with your new unit they will do everything in their power to make sure you and your family have a soft landing. 

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