9 Myths About Reservist Life

Think you understand Reserve life? Here are 9 myths. http://wp.me/p1d7d0-4So

Before I met and married my husband, a USMC reservist currently with 10 years in the service, I had no real understanding about the difference between Reserve and Active Duty military members.  In fact, I had no comprehension at all. It felt like I spent the first year I dated my husband simply trying to learn the lingo that is Military Acronym Speak, let alone having to have him explain every nuance of Reserve life.

I’ve since gotten the hang of things — and blog about them here. But I know there are plenty of people out there who don’t understand how life in the Reserves differs from life in the Active Duty. I’m going to share with you what I think are the nine most common myths about being a Reserve family.

Myth 1: Because we are a “military family,” we have access to Tricare health benefits.

Truth: Sort of. Yes we can get Tricare, but only if my husband is activated for more than 30 days. Outside of his deployments, that kind of activation has only happened once since I’ve known him. He was activated for 31 days and sent to Australia to train. Other than those rare occasions, we are only able to use TRICARE if we pay extra for it, which is usually more expensive than simply buying our own insurance or paying for benefits through one of our civilian jobs.

Myth 2: We get military allotments like uniform allowance, Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH).

Truth: Nope. The only time we qualified for BAH was when my husband deployed.  And we do not get uniform allowances, though my husband is required to keep his uniform tailored and up to date just like his active duty counter parts. This means that uniform expenses and the likes are out of pocket for us. But we can claim it on our taxes, along with his travel expenses associated with drill weekends and many other things.

Myth 3: Because we’re Reserve and have a “normal” civilian life, we don’t really miss the fun parts of active duty life.

Truth: I have never gotten to see my husband get pinned after a promotion. If I even know about the event ahead of time or am invited to it, I live too far away from where it is held to easily attend. I will always be sad that I miss out on these types of special events in his career. Yes, I have civilian job related events to be proud of him for, but I’m pretty sure there is nothing quite like the pride of watching your spouse get pinned … but I will never get to know for sure.

Myth 4: When my husband goes to drill we get extra benefits.

Truth: This might be the most common myth that I have to dispel for both my civilian and Active Duty friends. Benefits only change when my husband gets activated/deployed.  That means regardless of whether he is at drill or serving his two weeks a year, our benefits never change.

Myth 5: We have access to all the same help in times of need as our Active Duty friends.

Truth:  Although we can use Military OneSource, most non-profits and other such organizations that are in place to help the military are actually only for Active Duty families. The idea behind that restriction is that Reserve families have civilian jobs to fall back on.

But it means that when my husband misses work for his military service, but the military doesn’t pay us right away, neither the civilian world nor Military OneSource offers us aid to help get us over that financial hump, both perhaps assuming that the other will step-up. It also means that in times of emergency both groups often take the same attitude.

This also includes financial scholarships for schooling and just about anything else you can think of. Most groups are for Active Duty families only, though they don’t often advertise this fact.

Myth 6: Because we’re Reserve, my husband never misses important family events like birthdays and anniversaries.

Truth: My husband nearly always misses important events like my birthday.  We didn’t get to spend a real anniversary together until our third year of marriage and he misses nearly all major family events.  He has met most of my family only once, at our wedding. Reserve or not, the military simply doesn’t care what weekend they have drill, or other military related service, nor do they care if they deploy your spouse five months into your marriage. We’re in the same boat on this one: my husband misses nearly all the same major life events as Active Duty servicemembers do.

Myth 7: Reservists never (or rarely) deploy

Truth: This myth is starting to die on its own, but has been held onto by much of the civilian world. My family, for example, was not only shocked to find out that I was dating a Reservist who is a veteran of the Iraq war, but I thought their jaws were going to hit their knees when I told them he was going to deploy again.

Myth 8: Reservists aren’t as proud of military service as Active Duty folks. If they were, they’d have joined the Active Duty force.

Truth: This might be the most hurtful of all the myths about Reservists and their families. The truth is that everyone chooses what is right for them. My husband serves his country proudly, and I am equally as proud of his service as any Active Duty spouse is of their servicemember’s. I would have no problem with him deciding to go active duty, but l leave that up to him, since he’s the servicemember. His choice to go Reserve has nothing to do with a lack of pride in his military service or record.

Myth 9: Reserve families have it easier than Active Duty families because they split time between the civilian and military worlds.

Truth: I honestly don’t think one has it any easier than the other. Each side has a unique set of challenges that they face. Some of those challenges overlap and some are specific to being Reserve or Active Duty. I don’t PCS, and having never PCSed, but being a person who does not take moving well, I can only imagine it’s exciting but very difficult emotionally.

On the flip side, when my husband deployed, I was miles away from the nearest base and hours away from the nearest spouse from my husband’s unit. It means that we reserve spouses often feel alone during deployment because it’s unlikely we are near a base or other families to help us cope. There is always going to be something I can look at and say, “I don’t know how I would cope with that.”But the same goes for everyone in life, regardless of whether you are a civilian, Reservist or Active Duty family.

Are you are Reservist? What other myths would you add to this list? Active Duty? What about the above surprised you? Share below.


“Seriously” is a freelance writer, blogger, military spouse and all around pain in the butt. She has a snarky sense of humor which comes in handy when dealing with the rare form of arthritis she was recently diagnosed with and the general way she mucks up life by being stupid and lacking common sense. Feel free to laugh at her — she’s usually laughing at herself anyway. Find her blog here, or find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest

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30 Comments on "9 Myths About Reservist Life"

  1. Kudo's to you for your honest view of reservist life. I previously did not have a lot of info on reservists, but they are obviously a very important member of our armed services. As an active duty spouse, I don't know what I would do without the security and comforts of my Tricare availability, spouses next door to complain with, support on base, etc; I wish those were more available to you!

  2. some of your comments are justified and some are not when your husband took the oath he knew he could be deployed the next day and not be relieved for up to 4 years and during that time you are the spouse of an active duty soldier with all the benefits available. as for weekends every month you are allowed to go to the nearest base with a copy of his orders for that weekend and you are also entitled to all benefits available toactive duty families. there are drawbacks as you may not be close to a base when the weekend aproaches but if you can you can leave a day early and when the orders take effect you have the whole weekend to shop and partake of the base facilities which you will find out they are not ant cheaper then your local walmart more like macys and jc pennys and radio shack

  3. I am a reserve spouse (and veteran), i can attest to the fact that as a reserve dependent I have access to exchange, commissary, and MWR. I have never been denied access to a base, even when just wanting to "look around" (except of course those bases that have restricted areas).

    As for IRR, I was placed on IRR when I got out of the Navy, and I was not issued a government ID card. Without that ID, not bennies..

  4. One thing I'd like to note is the lack of administrative support for paperwork that reserve units have. Their paperwork is handled differently, so when they are activated (or attached to another unit for deployment) our paperwork gets lost in the shuffle. No one knows where it's supposed to go or how it is handled. It's really frustrating. There's also very little support for spouses during activations because we are are not central to any one location. In addition, when they are deployed they get trashed by their active duty partners. It's really disheartening for him to be the butt of the joke and being called a "weekend warrior" when he has more combat experience after multiple deployments than some of the active duty guys who are on their first run. The only benefit to us for choosing reserves is that my husband's civilian job pays 5x as much as the Marine Corps. The most difficult thing is flipping the switch between Marine and Civilian.

  5. As a former Guard/current Reserve wife, I feel like I could have written every word. So very true! There are a lot of misconceptions out there, and I wish I could show this to everyone I know. Great piece.

  6. The Reservist don't get paid to maintain thier physical fitness. The Reservist don't have programs such as organinzed PT to aide in physical fitness. We don't get paid to for all of the BS online courses that we are required to take ( Safty awareness, EO classes, DTS 101, ISO Prep, AT Terrisom, etc). The Reservist have to deal with two jobs and two work schedules.Some Reservist have to bribe or pay for thier shifts to covered during training.

    Both Active Duty and Reservist have thier struggles in the Military service. The important thing is that we all serve our Country with pride and integrity.

  7. Great and truthful list! I am a Navy Reserve spouse and have experienced all of this. My only difference is that for us, paying for Tricare is more than 75% cheaper than getting our health insurance through either of our jobs, so we feel lucky to have that option.

  8. My husband was active duty for 10 years then went civilian. However, 7 years ago he became a reservist. We experienced both sides. As active, he was sent to Germany only months after we were married, spent 2 years there then straight to the Gulf War for 6 months. We spent 85% of our first 3 years of marriage in different countries! He missed as many family events as a reservist. With reserve weekends on Father's Day. When I was 9 months pregnant with our 3rd child, he got orders to Iraq. He left 4 days after her birth, missing her entire 1st year of life. This was bittersweet for us because we tried for 6 years to get pregnant again & are unable to have anymore children. We pay $200/month plus copays for Tricare Reserve insurance with the first $3000 going towards the deductible which we never reach so $5400/yr out of pocket. Many doctors don't accept Tricare Res & we had to change doctors we've gone to for years. Commissary prices have skyrocketed. I save more shopping sales & using double coupons at civilian stores. I couldn't find any military charity that would help us while my reservist husband was deployed, nor could I find where to sign up to be one of the families to be helped.

  9. I have to disagree with some of these. I was married to a reservist, and am now married to an active duty service member. My ex-husband got allotments for uniforms, he rarely used all that he got and would use it for other things, since he didn't update most of his uniforms. My current husband also gets an allotment for uniforms, but what he gets is laughable compared to what he has to spend on the uniforms he has to wear everyday.

    I truly never felt much like a military wife with my first husband; he went off did his thing and came back. He rarely missed any events, and it had comparatively little impact on my life other than being a single mom for a while. There were of course stresses, but considering the retirement, I wasn't worried. As a spouse to an active duty service member, my entire life revolves around what the Navy needs. My job, secondary, the kids, secondary, needs of the the Navy, period. I'm not complaining, I knew what I was signing on for and think he's worth it, but it's a truly difficult role. When I was married to a reservist, I had no clue what active duty wives sacrificed.

  10. annabell9384 | August 15, 2012 at 7:22 pm |

    Well written! As the spouse of a sailor who served as a reservist for 20 yrs, I totally hear what you are saying!

  11. It takes a special person to do what Reservist and Guardsman do. Balancing Family, Civilian Job, and Reserves is like a 3 legged stool – If one is weak or breaks the others will suffer. I was fortunate enough to do 39+ years of Active Duty and Reserves – I have always been proud of the citizen military. I was asked by the press a few years ago – "How can you tell the difference between Active and Reserve/Guard forces. I said to look around and you tell me the difference – There is none – We are the most comat ready, best educated, best equipped force in the history of the world. The reason we are strong is most of us can work that three legged stool – if not we try to help those that are having trouble. We are all ONE GREAT FIGHTING FORCE & FAMILY and accept all challenges. Proud to have served and still miss it.

  12. screw you guys that think active duty has it harder. i had way more time with my family then. I have to work 3 jobs just to support my family now that i'm in the guard.

  13. i am retired navy reserve if i told you some of the things i had done to me you would call me a lier. i will always love the navy but some of the people i am not to happy about

  14. You can't be a professional combatant and be a civilian at the same time.

  15. @Winston that is what makes being a Reservist or Reservist family so difficult. No you can't, but you are expected to fight and mission first… Period. I have seen so many struggles of reserve families when civilian employers either choose not to support or can't support the absences of Soldiers due to training or deployments. Reservists are supposed to be protected from that sort of thing, but truth is employers get crafty with reasons for termination. You have to work a civilian job in the Reserves unless you're
    Iucky enough that your spouse can pick up the lose ends. In my case I am married to an Active Duty member and I myself was a Guardsman (and then a Reservist when transferring became a big issue) and we have a toddler. I was not allowed by my own unit to deploy because of the strain it would put on my husband's active duty job and our daughter, and then I get the attitude that I am not as skilled, or useful as my active duty counterparts. Anyone I hear feeding that line is more than welcome to a lengthy discussion from me about the unique challenges of being a reservist. My unit deploys every 3 years, my husband's every 3 years, with the added work on my part of finding new slots and a new job, new sitters every time we PCS. I have been trying for over a year to be transferred closer from our last PCS, which means that I am hopping a 9 hour flight every drill weekend and training period. I have also been unable to find a job in that time, even with the Active Duty spouse benefits that I get. Anyway, Active duty and Reserves are both equally as challenging, so people should start trying to understand that the Reserves and Guard function the way the way they do for very good reasons, although personnel tracking, paperwork, training equipment, and investment in leadership training are certainly areas of much needed improvement. The Reserve and Guard components just don't have the time or money to train as necessary without becoming activated or else denying Soldiers much needed benefits lost from civilian jobs. But these components are necessary unless you want Active Duty Soldiers and families to pay a much higher price, which I am in a unique position to also be paying.

  16. CMC Day USNR Ret. | August 16, 2012 at 10:55 am |

    There is also a myth that you are only covered by SGLI on drill weekends or AT. The insurance premiums which are deducted from pay every month cover reservists 24/7. We have had this argument with seemingly knowledgeable persons in the Chain of Command and always the SGLI representatives respond with reservists are covered 24/7 even at their civilian work place and home.

    The fact that the priums are the same price for active and reserve should tell you something but it seems people always need reassurance.

  17. The clothing allotment is an interesting subject. When I was active I received a clothing allotment. As a civilian required to wear a suit every day I do not get one from my employer. What gives I wear out clothes just like active duty. another benefit the public never sees that all think they deserve like the housing tax free allotments ( I hauled in 2600/month) while deployed in Iraq benefit. Stop the I sacrifice talk the benefits are so far above when I first joined the Corps as a Pvt in 1967 a fter 40 years I think I have a goodidea about sacrifice and do not see a whole bunch when you all signed up for the dance.

  18. I would disagree with the cost of health insurance in Myth 1. I use the TRICARE Reserve Select for my family healthcare and it is far cheaper than purchasing my company health care plan. Also, since most premiums have gone up with the implementation of ObamaCare, the TRICARE Reserve Select has only gone up slightly. Even with TRICARE Reserve Select I can choose to use my own service provider with no co-pays or I can go to a military service provider if there is space available. I highly recommend considering TRICARE Reserve Select when looking at your healthcare options.

  19. Gretchen Morrison | August 21, 2012 at 3:05 pm |

    Great post! You are right, each of us even if we are the same state and branch all get different results! I am told one thing my Friend goes in and asked the same question only gets a different answer. So no matter your status (active/reserve) or Branch we all have the same red fruit just may not all be apples! ;)

  20. Oh my word, I so needed this right now! I just missed my hubby getting pinned for corporal, we just dropped a bunch of money on new uniforms and tailoring, and I was wondering if we were the only ones??!! I support our military, but as a USMC reservist spouse, they make me so angry as well.

  21. I remember shopping in the BX for items to go on a deployment. Another guy saw me and said "Ha! I joined the Reserves to get out of having to do that!". My comment back to him was "Yeah…so did I!!"

  22. When I was active duty, my first deployment was with a Reservist team. At first glance, you thought these guys were incompetant, and partied all the time, couldn't hold a candle to active duty soldiers. But as soon as we hit the ground they reactivated their old contacts in Baghdad, and got operations running in no time. They knew their stuff, and were professional (for the most part) when the time was needed. Nethertheless they got high marks all around, it was a great learning experience.

  23. As a retired reservist I have alot to say. First, we did not join because of the pay, the bene`s or promise of regular promotions. We do it because we wanted to serve, and the rest, well. Be prepared to be called away, and in these economic times, look for chances to volunteer to go. Some employers will be spiteful and some hold it over you. ALL IN ALL I SPENT 20 YEARS, I WOULD NOT TRADE A DAY FOR A MILLION BUCKS BUT I WOULD SELL A DAY FOR ONE DOLLAR.

    The reserve center I came from had several congressionals, several changes of command (some forced, some early), all due to the lack of support for the reservists. The units there took care of there own business and as the C.O. once said they are only there if we were to get mobed. This is not the norm for all branches, just beware, do your own leg work, go in for a visit, ask, watch, listen. In all I was mobed for Desert Storm & OIF. Total time spent overseas was 4yrs 2 mos. Five rows of cabbage and proud of each.

    I was asked once if I would do it again? I said _ _ ck ya, in a heart beat. Myths, some are true, like does the active side treat reserves like like step children during their 2 weeks? some. Do the reserves compete with the active side for promo`s? yes. Is there the same tolerance for less than outstanding physical readiness? no. Because of the employment situation today even reservists are an expendable commodity. When it comes time to retire, reservists do not draw the benefit right away, you wait until age 60, take the spousal benefit, remember your spouse has spent the same 20 years and deserves it if you die.


  24. If you want to confuse everyone…discuss the AGR component.

    I was married to an AGR ANG Soldier with 22 years in service as AGR + 4 years AD USMC. No one quite understands what AGR is.

  25. I am an active duty female and I do a mans job and I accept it. You don't have it that bad suck it up.

  26. Great job with this article. I usually don't like military wives at all, but this lady is spot on. Thank you for your honest portrayal of what it is like to be part of a military reserve family, without any whining or ridiculous stories about not knowing how to use an ATM (ie, Sarah Smiley – whose articles I like, but I was still horrified by her initial naivety).

  27. Good post. Almost all of it true for my family. My husband has been a reservist for almost 5 years now. His unit mine as well be an active duty unit though as much as they train. My husband spends way more time than just 1 weekend a month and 2 weeks AT. He has also been deployed on a 14 month stint to Afghanistan. He has been gone more in the last 3 years than he has been home. It would be nice if he had the same benefits as his active duty counterparts. Besides the deployments (yes we get insurance, BAH, BAS, etc. during the deployments) all of the training typically last 29 days. Guess what, that puts him out of luck when it comes to benefits. He also doesn't get paid until he comes back home. His unit is required to train more than the normal reserve unit. My husband cannot find, or keep a civilian job due to this. Employers really do not care, they find a way to discriminate. Like others said above, none of the organisations that help military families during financial crisis are set up to help the reserve families as well. Not only this, when in financial trouble, like we are because of the reserve schedule, we can't even take out a payday loan because it is illegal if you are associated with the military. My husband would love to go to the active duty side. With all of the cutbacks these days it unlikely though. I would, as a civilian, have a better chance in being able to enlist active duty than he would.

    We are a proud family though. With all the nuances, hard times, and financial strain to remain a reservist family we still stay proud of my husbands service to this country.

  28. The biggest problem I found during my time in the reserves, after active duty service with the Army was employer support. Never mind paid military leave. Most employers, with the exception of the public sector, even resent giving unpaid military leave, separate from vacation time.

    From my experience the overwhelming majority of Reservists, including the National Guard, were full time students, local/state/federal government workers, teachers, self employed, or worked at a family owned business.

  29. Never married as a reservist (I left reserves before marriage), but here's my 2 cents:

    Part-time: With exception of deployments, no long and extended duty periods
    Base access and availability of discounted shopping and lodging at DoD sponsored locations
    Travel opportunities-many civilian employers (especially small local businesses) don't give you that chance
    Opportunity to learn new skills and meet interesting people
    Don't have to move every 4 years, hoping you don't end up at remote radar station near the arctic circle or other undesirable location. (FYI, I knew AD friend who ended up at remote radar station for 1-2 years :) )

    Have to balance two jobs/two lives (AD members and spouses live military 24/7/365)
    Spouse/SO has less support than AD spouses
    Smaller pension, have to wait until age 60 to collect pension check
    Don't spend enough time to really get good at job(minus deployments), unless you have civilian experience in similar career field
    Some civilian employers see reservists as liability rather than asset to company due to drill duty/deployment commitments

    I enjoyed my time in the reserves, but quit due to working full time and starting night classes for my degree. There was no time for drill duty or deployments unless I wanted to skip sleep.

  30. This post was written a while ago, but it came up rather highly rated when I searched "Reserve Lifestyle"
    My boyfriend of 7 years recently brought up the idea of joining the Navel Reserves. He currently ships on the civilian side and he has mentioned it more than a few times.

    I am very interested to understand how our lifestyle would change. We are rather used to the shipping lifestyle, he has worked everything from 12 days on/off to 90 days (the current).

    I would love for someone to add on to this!
    It was very insightful and thought provoking.
    Maybe like a "Things you should know" or "questions to ask" type of break down.

    Thank you again for this and your husband for his service. I understand the feeling of others being confused about a persons job and how it relates to their absence, I have fallen back on, "he is an engineer" for the past few years.

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