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Updated March 2022
Active military members have very busy lives. Deployments, training, administration details, career education, family time, and physical fitness all ensure very demanding schedules. Members of the National Guard, the Air Guard, and their respective services Reserve forces (i.e. Navy Reserve, Army Reserve, etc.) have to balance two career worlds: Military and Civilian. Reserve and Guard members balance the demands of their full-time civilian employer position and their “part-time” Reserve and Guard position.
Making everything work between a civilian career world and a military career world is extraordinarily difficult. Each world is just a phone call or an email away and it requires a different mindset and skill set to have success in each. The following six (6) tips are to help Guard and Reserve members manage both career worlds successfully.
The time management requirements of both careers are one of the most difficult to manage. To do this, keep an electronic calendar of both your civilian job requirements and your military requirements on one calendar. This is essential so you have visibility to all events. The single calendar allows you to plan, anticipate, and adjust your respective calendars so you can fit everything in. Don’t forget scheduled time for family and fitness.
Qualifying for retirement is one of the biggest benefits of serving in the Guard & Reserve. To qualify, you need to log 20 “good years.” A good year is one in which you earn at least 50 points through unit membership, correspondence courses, and inactive and active duty training. Your year likely won’t correspond with the beginning and ending of the calendar year, but instead will be based on the 12-month period beginning when you joined the Guard or Reserve. Each year, Guard & Reserve members should have a plan to get 125% of their required points. That’s not a big ask since you earn 15 points for membership, four points for a typical drill weekend, and one point for every day on annual training. Focus on getting the required points as early in the year as possible to create some flexibility if you have to miss a drill for a work event or family conflict. Make sure that you check each month that your points are up-to-date and make any corrections immediately. And remember, more points equate to a bigger retirement check.
Anyone in contact with a military member or their family knows of all the changes and counter-changes that generate through the military order system for professional schools and deployments. When you receive a change, wait 2-3 days before you tell your civilian employer to ensure that the latest change remains correct. Most civilian employers will be driven crazy hearing about and trying to react to every change. Good, regular, and open communication with your civilian employer is the key.
Guard & Reserve members can run into significant financial difficulties when the pay levels between their two careers suddenly become imbalanced. If I have a high-paying civilian job and I am mobilized then I could suddenly take a drop in income. Likewise, if I am paid more in the Guard & Reserve, then when I come off of a deployment, I could take a drop in income. The key is to advance both your civilian and military careers simultaneously so you make more in each. This means that for both careers, promotion needs to be a critical element to your success.
Look for chances to increase your promotion and military education levels during every Guard & Reserve drill event. On a weekend drill, take 1-2 extra hours to have a peer inspect your uniform, complete an on-line education course, or find a weapon qualification range to increase your promotion points on your assigned weapon. If you are deployed, complete as much on-line education as possible for your next promotion. Time maximization towards preparing for promotion is invaluable.
If your military specialty supports your civilian specialty and vice versa, look for opportunities to see how you can blend the two worlds so your military and civilian careers support each other. Workplace safety is a major concern to employers. Can you gather 1-2 safety experts from your unit to explain how the military’s safety and risk mitigation system works and how it could be applied to their business? Likewise, would someone from your civilian workplace be willing to speak or teach a class about a new technology or industry practice?
Managing a civilian and a Guard & Reserve career takes time, but the benefits are well worth it. The financial benefit of a Guard & Reserve retirement is invaluable and only becoming more valuable. Look for opportunities how to create value from your military experience for your civilian employers. Finally, most importantly, never neglect family and your own personal health and fitness in making these two vastly different worlds work together.
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About the blogger:
Chad Storlie is the author of two books: Combat Leader to Corporate Leader and Battlefield to Business Success. Both books teach how to translate and apply military skills to business. An adjunct Lecturer of Marketing at Creighton University and Bellevue University in Omaha, NE. Chad is a retired US Army Special Forces officer with 20+ years of Active and Reserve service in infantry, Special Forces, and joint headquarters units. He served in Iraq, Bosnia, Korea, and throughout the United States. He was awarded the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Special Forces Tab, and the Ranger Tab. In addition to teaching, he is a mid-level marketing executive and has worked in marketing and sales roles for various companies, including General Electric, Comcast, and Manugistics. He has been published in The Harvard Business Review blog, Business Week Online, Forbes, Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, and over 40 other publications. He has a BA from Northwestern University and an MBA from Georgetown University.
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