Advice for Professionals Transitioning into the Guard or Reserve


Statistics tell us that more than half of you will elect to extend your service in the Guard or the Reserve. Your motivations for doing so might range from completing your service obligation to qualifying for a pension to contributing to a cause greater than yourself. All good. But your world has likely changed: You may now have a civilian boss in addition to a military one, which can lead to complications when called to active duty or to regular drills. There are many benefits to continuing your service (see the second table below) and as a member of the Guard or Reserve you have some rights under existing statutes that your prospective employer (or educator) will need to honor (see the first table below). However, you must enter into this commitment with an understanding that it may pose some challenges for your prospective employer as well. They may be counting on the continuous application of your skill set with minimal interruption. Remember the reason for any business’ existence is to make money, and you will be contributing to that. Any extended absence may distract from that goal.


Regulation What It Does
Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) -
  • Protects job rights of service members, applicants to the uniformed services, and those who voluntarily or involuntarily leave employment positions to undertake military service
  • Prohibits discrimination in employment or adverse employment actions against service members and veterans
Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 (VEVRAA) -
  • Prohibits employment discrimination by Federal government contractors against certain veterans
  • Requires affirmative action for specific veterans by Federal government contractors that have at least 50 employees and a contract worth $100k or more
Higher Education Act of 1965, As Amended -
  • Requires institutions of higher education to promptly readmit with the same academic status a servicemember who was previously admitted to the institution but who did not attend, or did not continue to attend, because of service in the uniformed services
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 -
  • Protects against discrimination based on the presence of disabilities
  • Mandates that employers make appropriate and reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) -
  • Entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave
  • Permits military family members to take up to 12 weeks of FMLA leave during any 12-month period to address issues that arise during a military member’s deployment to a foreign country
  • Allows family members of a covered service member to take up to 26 weeks of FMLA leave during a single 12-month period to care for the service member who is undergoing medical treatment, recuperation, or therapy for a serious illness incurred on active duty

Regulations Impacting Veteran Employment,


In weighing this decision, or how fully to engage in it, you might consider some facts:

  • A recent survey noted in Harvard Business Review indicated that resumes reflecting service in the Reserve Component (RC), which includes both the Guard and Reserve, were 11% less likely to be called for an interview
  • 55% of respondents to the 2013 Status of Forces Survey of RC Members stated that they sometimes lose opportunities for overtime or extra pay because of their RC obligations even when not activated.
  • According to a 2013 RAND study, the annual number of active duty days for members of the RC has increased between 300-500% since 9/11. And according to the above Status of Forces Survey of RC Members, there is an 87% chance that some portion of those days were spent in a combat zone or an area where the RC member drew imminent danger pay or hostile fire pay.
  • The same RAND study indicated that ~25% of employers of RC personnel did not know what they needed to know to remain in compliance with USERRA, and well above half were unaware of the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve’s (ESGR) Statement of Support, programs, and awards.
  • Although current RC members report a significant drop in deployments recently, a 2014 briefing by the Reserve Forces Policy Board noted that since 9/11, 64% of Reserve Component members have been activated one or more times (for more than 30 days), deployed on average 2.1 times, and spent on average between 400-500 days on active duty.
  • The same briefing noted that for the past decade, Reserve Component members have spent well over the annual statutory minimum of 39 compensated days on duty. The latest 12-month average was 61 days of compensated duty. This did not include, however, an additional 12 days on average spent doing uncompensated unit business.
  • According to the Defense Manpower Data Center, Reserve Component members were nearly twice as likely to experience financial problems compared to their Active Duty peers. This is partly due to the fact that, according to the 2013 Status of Forces Survey of RC Members, 28% of reservists experienced unemployment following their most recent activation, with 62% of those instances lasting three or more months, 38% lasting six or more months, and 18% lasting more than a year.

These factors are largely driven by the fact that the Reserve Components changed from a strategic to an operational reserve in 2008 by US Department of Defense Directive 1200.17. How so? Twenty years ago as a member of the Guard or Reserve, you could reliably assume that you would be involuntarily mobilized only once throughout the entirety of your Reserve service; and employers could expect their citizen-soldier employees to have relatively predictable schedules (one weekend of service per month and two weeks of active duty per year). This is no longer the case. That Department of Defense Directive effectively put Reserve Component (RC) forces on par with Active Component (AC) forces, at least as it relates to their regularly scheduled participation in overseas contingency operations.

To quote the Directive, “RCs provide operational capabilities and strategic depth to meet US defense requirements across the full spectrum of conflict. In their operational roles, RCs participate in a full range of missions according to their Services’ force generation plans. Units and individuals participate in missions in an established cyclic or periodic manner….” In short, as it relates to frequency and duration of deployments and the kinds of missions you could expect to be activated to support, you should expect to be busier than RC members of a generation ago.

Troops in The Trenches

“A lot of folks think going to the RC is two weeks a year and one weekend a month. These days the average reservist often has more drill time during the week than just those two weeks of AT, even without being called to active duty. Many units now do MUTA 6 or 8 drill weekends a few times a year, which will require a Fri-Sun or Thu-Sun drill. Plus, for the officers, there are often training workshops or other events that put you on orders for 2-5 days. The point is, a reserve commitment DOES take more time away from your employer, and not all employers will understand or support that.”

    -Jeff LeRoy, Colonel, USAR

So what is the upside to being so much busier? There are many benefits, and they are considerable. Please see the table below for a summary:


Educational Financial Quality of Life
  • Tuition Assistance
  • College Credit
  • Montgomery GI Bill – Selected Reserve
  • On the Job Training
  • Post-9/11 GI Bill
  • Student Loan Repayment
  • Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP)
  • VA Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E)
  • Extra Income
  • Grocery & Department Store Privileges
  • Low-Cost Insurance
  • Health Care – Medical & Dental
  • Pension
  • Potential Bonus
  • Disability Compensation
  • VA Home Loan Guaranty
  • VA Burial & Memorial Services
  • Military discounts
  • Tax deductions for RC job-related expenses
  • Differential Pay (from some employers)
  • Sense of self-worth
  • Service to the nation
  • Camaraderie
  • Direct Transfer from Active Duty
  • Doing the Extraordinary
  • Keep Your Rank
  • Networking
  • No Need to Move
  • Access to:
  • Fitness Centers
  • Chaplain Services
  • Child Care Services
  • Financial Counseling
  • Family Centers
  • Legal Assistance
  • Recreation Facilities

Summary of Reserve Component Benefits


In fact, except for the likelihood of being activated and deployed, large majorities of RC members report being satisfied with most aspects of their service. According to the 2013 Status of Forces Survey of Reserve Component Members:

  • 87% report being proud to serve in the National Guard or Reserve
  • 82% report that their family views their RC participation favorably or very favorably
  • 75% report being satisfied or very satisfied with the military way of life
  • 70% report that their principal civilian employer is supportive of their RC obligations
  • By a three-to-one ratio, RC members report that overall benefits and opportunities are better in the military than in their civilian roles.  
    • 45% report that their TRICARE medical coverage is better than their civilian employer’s health care plan. Only 14% found it to be worse.
    • 37% report that their TRICARE dental coverage is better than their civilian employer’s health care plan. Only 20% found it to be worse.


Troops in The Trenches

“Though it may be niche to my industry, prior service or serving members of the RC are highly valued in the defense industry.  I have been deployed twice for over 2.5 years combined with my company out of 13 years and have been promoted to a senior executive.  My company, like many defense companies as well as some larger commercial companies have very rich benefits for RC members. My company pays up to six months differential pay to its employees during a deployment so you do not take a loss for deploying.”

    -Robert Carruthers, Colonel, ARNG

Finally, please note that a pension earned from service in the Reserve does not have the same terms as that earned serving on Active Duty. The Department of Defense calls it a “non-regular retirement.” As the DoD states, “Members who accumulate 20 or more years of qualifying service are eligible for reserve retirement when they reach age 60…. However, any member of the Ready Reserve who is recalled to active duty or, in response to a national emergency, is called to certain active service after January 28, 2008, shall have the age 60 requirement reduced by 3 months for each cumulative period of 90 days so performed in any fiscal year after that date.” So here’s the upside of that: Should you continue your service and realize the pension, all those years you put in on AC will not go to waste and you will earn a fixed pension, which is very rare these days. For some, that retirement income may be significant and have a material impact on your quality of life in planning for retirement after civilian work.  As important, if not more so now, is that you will get free medical care upon retirement, which is a very significant benefit. That upside comes with a stark reality, however: For most, you won’t see a dime of that pension until you turn 60. You can find the retirement formula for the various types of reserve retirements here: For additional detail on Guard and Reserve retirement, please see this link:


Considering those factors and understanding the resulting impact it would have on your family and your employer, you have an obligation to educate both audiences on the implications of your Reserve Component service.


For your family, I would encourage you to be utterly transparent in all factors and implications of your service. They will need to understand:

  • Your intent to continue your service and the rationale for doing so
  • Your appreciation for their support and sacrifices it will take to enable your service
  • That you will likely be activated and deploy for unknown durations and for similar missions as active duty
  • The differences (if a member of the Guard) between State Active Duty, Title 32 Active Duty, and Title 10 Active Duty
  • That there are plentiful resources to support them while you are gone (see the lists below for starters)


I would also strongly encourage you to:

  • Educate them on the differences in support systems between Active and Reserve Components
  • Have them participate in family readiness briefings and activities
  • Develop a Family Care Plan with them
  • Introduce them to your unit family support staff and volunteer network
  • Visit an installation Family Support Center or National Guard Family Assistance Center (FAC) with them (States and territories have Joint Force [Army and Air National Guard] Headquarters that have established over 300 FACs nationwide).
  • Ensure your spouse is aware of support options for military children and youth
  • Encourage them to get involved in helping others, an effective coping technique
  • Familiarize yourself and your family with resources available through Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR)


In educating your family, you will find plenty of good advice and helpful information in the following resources:


As we turn to employers, it is interesting to note that only 40% of RC members report being employed by public or private companies. By contrast, 54% report that they work for governmental entities at various levels – 38% for the Federal government, 16% for State or Local government. It begs the question as to whether government employment is more compatible with RC service. Regardless, in approaching your employer with the above facts, I would offer two pieces of advice:

  • Understanding that there is a greater than 10% chance that you wouldn’t even be interviewed, much less hired, if the employer knew of your service, I would suggest taking a “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” approach prior to being hired. If the employer doesn’t ask about your intent to join the Guard or Reserve, there is no reason for you to volunteer that information. Given the tenets of USERRA, if an employer asks if you are (or intend to become) a member of the RC, I would suggest that you respond with a question as to whether that detail is relevant to you being considered for the role. That avoids the question and provides the employer an easy way out of a potential conundrum (they can’t discriminate based on military status). If the interviewer persists, you might respond that you are considering it, but haven’t yet committed to it.
  • Once you are hired, you owe it to your employer to be as transparent as possible with the implications of your service. In doing so, you will want to do what you can to try to offset what will be a burden to them should you be activated and deployed.


Your employer will need to understand:

  • Your intent to continue your service and the rationale for doing so
  • That you will likely be activated and deploy for unknown durations
  • Your ongoing value to them as an employee upon your return
    • Note the “Value of a Veteran in a Competitive Business Environment” box in the Introduction of Mission Transition
    • The opportunity for tax incentives associated with the Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) to Hire Heroes Act of 2011. You can find details here:
  • Your appreciation for their support and sacrifices it will take to enable your service
    • Direct costs may include recruiting, screening, hiring, and training replacement workers; the relative cost of the replacement worker; the cost of benefits provided you during your absence; and the cost to retrain you upon your return
    • Indirect costs may include lost business, productivity, or opportunity for growth
  • The laws and regulations they must follow as it relates to your service
  • That they have their own set of rights and resources to support them in managing the implications of your service
    • They may request that some of their workers be named “key employees” who cannot be mobilized
      • Given the disproportionate impact to smaller employers, they might consider such a designation of these personnel from the outset
    • DoD is supposed to proactively engage employers with relevant USERRA information based on the Civilian Employment Information (CEI) that RC members provide. Should that outreach not take place, employers should reach out to the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve organization (ESGR, ESGR is a DoD program established in 1972 to promote cooperation and understanding between RC members and their civilian employers and to help resolve conflicts arising from an employee's military commitment.
    • According to DoD Instruction 1205.12, RC members must fulfill the following obligations to be eligible for reemployment rights under USERRA:
      • Provide notice to their employer of the pending military service, preferably in writing and at least 30 days prior to departure
      • Provide a return notification letter to their employer, samples of which you can find at the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) - (
      • Provide documentation of service performed to their employer
      • Limit cumulative absences to no more than five years per employer
      • Not be separated from the service under a disqualifying discharge
    • The burden of proof of discrimination under USERRA rests with the veteran
    • There is no obligation to continue full or differential/partial pay during an RC member’s absence, although many leading companies have such policies


In short, I would suggest you strive for a balance in mission and work priorities. Your employer is no longer only the military; you now have additional obligations to other organizations that depend on you. Be respectful. Be thankful. Be as proactive as possible in helping to fill the gap your absence creates.

  • Student Reservists

DoD reports that up to one-third of all reservists may be students. But DoD has not specifically tasked the ESGR with helping student reservists get readmitted upon return from mobilization. Congress has filled the void by passing Part 668.18 of Title 34 of the Code of Federal Regulations (Readmission Requirements for Servicemembers), which effectively applies the terms of USERRA to institutions of higher learning. For a list of readmission requirements, please see this link: For specific questions on this topic, please see the Department of Education’s list of Frequently Asked Questions for Servicemembers seeking readmission, which you will find here:


Also, tuition assistance programs within the services are quite generous. In addition to those noted below, members of the Guard should investigate what assistance programs their individual states may offer. See the links below for details in each service:

With those approaches understood, let’s turn our attention to the actual process for transitioning into the Guard or Reserve. There are seven entities in the Reserve Component. Here are the websites that stipulate the process for Active Component members to join them:


Deciding how long to remain in the RC eventually becomes a question for all members, and the answer will be unique to everyone. In making your decision, I would urge you to use the prioritization matrix in Chapter 9 of Mission Transition.

Troops in The Trenches

“The higher up you go, the more difficult it gets. I have been a brigade commander for five years, all while trying to advance my civilian career. At one point I was in command of a nine-unit Military Intelligence brigade spread across nine states. I was in the War College, and I was program manager for a major classified space program with my civilian employer. It makes me tired just thinking about it. At some point you get to a fork in the road: Am I going to prioritize my civilian career? Or am I going to try to get promoted and focus on the Army Reserve?”

    -Joe Dziezynski, Colonel, USAR

One final note for those officers that will transition to the Guard or Reserve, including Individual Ready Reservists (IRR). Just as you had to resign your active duty commission to join the Guard or Reserve, you must resign your Reserve commission upon completion of your duty to be officially removed from the rolls of the Ready or Standby Reserve (assuming you either cease your service short of retiring from the Guard or Reserve or decide to retire and get re-assigned to the Retired Reserve). If you fail to do so, you could find yourself the recipient of activation orders when DoD determines your military skill set is needed. You can find the process for resigning your RC commission here:


For additional information on your Guard and Reserve options, please see the following resources: