I live in the Midwest. We do not have a whole lot of military presence in this area, so the general public is pretty unclear that reserve members wander around daily in their midst. Common questions I have received are:
“We have Navy here? But there isn’t a lot of water here”
“Aren’t you supposed to be on a ship?”
“I thought you joined the military? When are you leaving?”
Or my favorite: “Why didn’t you just go active duty?”
Everyone has different reasons for joining the military. Some people join for patriotism. Some join for the benefits- health care, GI bill, signing bonuses. Some join because they like the structure and lifestyle. Some people join for a cause bigger than themselves. Some join as a way to start a new life. I have heard lots of stories of how people end up in the military. Some do career active duty, some do career reserves, some do a blend of the two and some just “do their time and get out”. So this is where the big question comes up: Why did I choose the Reserves?
I grew up as a Navy brat. I always had a strong sense of pride and patriotism. It was never a question that I would join the military. I ventured off to college at the age of 17 into an ROTC program to become an active duty Navy officer. Through a series of events and a lengthy bought with Pertussis, I ended my ROTC venture to focus on completing my college degree in Nursing and pursue the Navy at a later time.
Fast forward 6 years, I was a successful nurse. I had a career that I was proud of and literally saved people’s lives on a regular basis at a local public hospital. But something was missing. Many people probably think I am crazy for saying that because my job was very fulfilling, but I just knew I could do more. That I wanted to be a part of something bigger. Do my part to serve my country. So again, I settled back on my desire to be in the military. I turned 25 and decided that I better act on it. There are pro’s and con’s to both active duty and reserves. Here is where I come to the discussion that this post is about. Here are the top 5 reasons I why I didn’t go active duty:
- School Without “Commitment”. I could serve my country AND simultaneously attend grad school without having to promise X # years of service to the Navy. Now I am in the Navy because I want to be. Not because I am fulfilling a service requirement for free school. I made a (small) paycheck, received health care benefits, and a generous sign-on bonus that allowed me to pay for living expenses while I was going to school. I was able to quit my full time job and work as-needed at the hospital to give me flexibility to work around school. All without the indentured servitude that many higher educated healthcare professionals feel after getting into these type of deals with the government. I wanted to keep my military service a volunteer commitment.
- Direct Commission. Need I say more? For those who are unfamiliar with this program, it is for professionals to come directly into the military as an officer with no boot camp, no ROTC, no yelling drill instructors, etc. Though this can and does have some major drawbacks (I am terrible at marching), it is an enticing way to enter the military for those who are older and already have a career. And hey… it’s how I met my other half.
- Family Flexibility. Ok, I wasn’t engaged or married when I was making this decision. I wasn’t even seriously dating anyone. Or even have a dog yet. But I’ve always had a family. Not being active duty gave me the ability to be around for a lot of holidays and special events in my niece and nephews’ lives because I wasn’t stationed somewhere far away. Additionally, I also understood that when I mentioned my desire to go into the Navy to anyone I did date, they instantly were intimidated, thought I was crazy, or ran for the hills. At 25, I was realistic that eventually I wanted a family. Sure, I could have gone off to active duty and then eventually made the decision to get out or stay in when the family was more an immediate concern, but I’m an OCD planner. Plenty of people have families in the military, and I admire those people. But I also knew I wanted as much flexibility to decide what was right for me in the future. Now that I am done with graduate school, I have been asked if I would go active duty, and my answer right now is “no”. That could always change, but right now it is the best for us. The Reserves allows Brian and me some flexibility to both serve and maximize our time together, or at least Skype more often.
- Civilian Life. I get some control over where I go and what I do. Yes, I understand I am ultimately the property of the government. I get deployment orders, and I will be off to wherever they tell me. Obviously I joined the military and have no question that I want to serve when the time comes or when I decide to volunteer. But when I am not deployed, I get the best of civilian life. I get to participate in (most) family functions, spend time with my awesome friends, come home every night (or morning, for us 3rd shifters), and I get to take leave when I want to where I want. I also get to further my civilian career and bring those experiences to the Navy to make me a more well-rounded nurse. Not to mention, I get the benefit of a larger civilian pay check.
- Navy Family. I get the best of the military as well: the friends. Ok, so this is really the main reason I stay in the Navy, rather than a reason I joined. I am a member of a community wherever I go, like the grocery store today where the cashier was an Army reservist. I can connect with my grumpy old veteran patients, who sometimes other nurses just find difficult. I have people I can call out of the blue if I need extra support or help- such as during Brian’s deployment when I need a little extra emotional understanding, when I needed my wisdom teeth taken out- like yesterday and the surgeon got me on his schedule for that week because I used to be in the same unit, when my sink started leaking at 10 pm on a Sunday and I happened to know a retired military member who did plumbing work in the area, having one of my father’s military buddies and his wife allow me to crash at their house several times a week while I was finishing up graduate school, and during a recent winter storm I got 2 wellness checks to make sure I had power for heat and was surviving ok- you get the point. It’s a type of family and comradery you don’t get in a civilian job. I love my civilian friends and co-workers, but it is a different connection when you share a way of life with others dedicated to a greater purpose. There are always friends in interesting places to go visit or meet up with while traveling, near or far. We met up with several military friends on our pre-deployment venture. And you will run into these people in the most random of places, sometimes years apart which is fun and exciting.
Active duty versus reserves is an individual choice. The main thing to understand is that there are many ways to serve in the military. Everyone’s journey is different. At some point, every military member must make the decision to be active duty, be a reservist or be a civilian. These are my top reasons for making the choice that I did.
What path did you choose? What are some reasons that helped you make this decision?