Company Benefits for Drilling Military Reservists

The case for supporting your military with more than a yellow ribbon

Many companies make a point to mention all of their benefits, touting how they are ‘among the best’, or have ‘a competitive benefits package’. This might be true for the 80% case, but being an actively drilling Reservist in the United States Army Reserve, there’s an obviously lacking set of benefits that appeal to me.

What is a “Drilling Reservist/Guard Member?”

You may have heard the sales pitch:

One weekend a month, two weeks a year

and think that’s pretty reasonable.

That’s what I thought, too, when I enlisted in 2004. However, 911 was in 2001, and since then, the contributions that the Reserve/Guard side of the military have taken has increased significantly, both in number of deployments, time away from home for training, and increased tempo. I know many people who have served multiple deployments of 6-18 months in a 5-10 year period. That’s a lot.

Let me restate that I would never state that the Reserve/Guard side of the house is doing more than the Active Duty side, nor should the increased number of deployments detract away from what the Active Duty Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen/women all contribute and have the same struggles. That said, when they retire from Active Duty service, they are a Veteran, and may also continue to contribute their time to the Reserves or Guard. While the treatment of Veterans issues is a critical issue, it is somewhat separate from these points, and something I would prefer to discuss separately.

Increased Tempo

A Drill Weekend, Battle Assembly or whatever you call your weekend requirements, is billed with the funny moniker, …one weekend a month… I would have to say that in my nearly 12 years in the Reserves, I have had probably 4- or 5- weekends total that fit that.

                          11 years = 132 months weekend a month... weekends = 4-5
                          the rest = 127-128 months

Now, the way that a weekend is counted is generally what you would call an 8-hour day. In addition to saying these are billed as one-weekend affairs, you’d think your day was a little longer. I would say most weekends were at least 12 hours, and I’ve gone without much more than 4-5 hours sleep in a weekend in it’s entirety. usually what we try to fit in these days. It is extremely difficult to meet the demands of the training requirements in an 8 hour day, and I would wager it is impossible without also requiring that everyone does a bunch of work outside of the weekend to get things done (which is also what happens, too).

What constitutes Training?

What would you think fits in a normal weekend of training? It is very often completely different month-to-month, as we have a lot of general requirements to meet in addition to the other training that we are required to fulfill. Some of these training events include:

  • Physical Fitness Tests (PT Test, PFT, etc).
  • Marksmanship
  • MOS-based skills development (depends greatly on what your unit does)
  • Team / Squad / Platoon / Company team building
  • Mandatory training (sexual assault / harrassment awareness, legal, benefits, meet-and-greet with senior leadership)

I would say that it would be enough to just perform the MOS-based skills development, but adding in these other requirements just makes things a whole lot more difficult and time-consuming.

Extra-curricular Training

In addition to the minimum requirements mentioned above, more often than not, you may want to take on an additional training course or two in order to stand out from your peers and potentially increase your knowledge and expertise in your military occupational field/specialty (MOS). This is entirely possible, but must happen completely outside of the time you’ve committed to the unit for their training needs. Your personal training needs are completely different, and will require you to give up even more of your time. There are a lot of different training and extra time that you can commit yourself to:

  • Extra Duty Service
    • This would be where you would volunteer to help on a mini-mission of sorts, something that doesn’t require an entire company to work on, but isn’t something that can be done during the weekend. It also could include catch-up work that needed to be done but wasn’t complete before the weekend, so could take a couple extra days out of your regular work-week.
  • Special Billet Training - leadership assignments that require additional training, such as:
    • Equal Opportunity training
    • Unit Prevention Leader (qualified urinalysis test administrator training)
    • Sexual Assault and Harassment representative
    • Battle Assembly (learning to operate a unit’s admin house during a deployment)
    • Weapons Armorer (maintain the weapons)
  • Leadership Advancement courses (often, these are required prerequisites before you can even apply for a promotion to a Sergeant (SGT), Staff-Sergeant (SSG), etc.)

Each one of these kinds of assignments can take anywhere from 1 to 4 weeks of additional time during your year. This is training that must be complete in addition to the unit’s required training. If you have any hopes to be a well-rounded leader, you will want to participate in these other training and opportunities so you stand out a bit more.

Non-Standard Training cycles

Given the above, you may start to realize that just meeting the bare minimum can be a big chore and requirement. If you’re a leader for the unit, you’re probably thinking “How the heck am I going to get this stuff done in a weekend?” Well, the leaders have definitely thought about this, and what has come down is to try to turn a …one weekend a month… into …three or four days in a month… instead.

A usual weekend for me is either a Friday - Sunday, or a Thursday through Sunday. This gives ample time to devote every hour of those days towards some form of training. We do a lot of training, but we also try to maximize the fact that we have a captive audience, so we wouldn’t dare send someone home after a mere 8- or 12- hour day. No, we will go from 5AM to 10PM every day to try to fit in as much as possible. If you can’t do the calculation in your head, that’s 17 hours a day. Long days, for sure.

What does “Supporting the Troops” mean, anyway?

The term Support the Troops is very, VERY often, thrown about without any regard for how to do that. I can only speak as a Reservist, so Active Duty members may have a different opinion on the matter. That said, I deal with civilians daily, so I am often the face of the military for many people.

I tend to think that support means the same thing if you’re looking at it from paternity / maternity leave, as well as different kinds of support you might provide an employee when they’re going through a rough patch, such as a divorce, death in the family, etc.. You might be a little more lenient on time away, or you might try to provide them some things to make their days a little easier to bear. I think the same kind of empathy should be provided for someone who chooses to commit one weekend a month* to serving your country.

I am certainly burned out after a long drill weekend, but I also have a very hard time trying to stay on top of my career while also giving way to the requirements of having to show up for my military obligations as well. It’s a tough set of things to do, and that isn’t even mentioning any kind of family life you may have at home. I know that my time with my family is critically important to me, so having that flexibility to spend time with them is key.

Benefits for Reservists

Of all the benefits I look at as a potential employee, none stands out more than whether you have any policy defined at all for drilling members of the military. These benefts vary, but generally speaking, the biggest one is simply:

Salary Continuity

This includes all training, monthly drill weekends, activation (when necessary), and additional training as required.

make it obvious that your employment isn’t in jeopardy if you choose to do more than the minimum required by contract.

Simply put, being able to provide continuity to your salary and family’s life

Avoid Bean Counting

I know that there are companies that are willing to provide that above requirement, but they may do so on a limited basis. They may allot X days a month or a year to contribute to this fund, but no more. Given what I have said above, I don’t think that’s being honest about what your average military Reservist is having to contribute, and it forces them to choose between being a mediocre member of the military to one of the better ones.

I don’t believe there should be any limitation to the time spent away. If you believe they are valuable as an employee, it is because of what they do, not in spite of it. It is probably difficult to compensate for someone that is not there, and doubly so when you may have to hire someone to backfill for when you’re out. However, I think you hired the person because of their skills and ability, so you should recognize that you’re essentially paying a small tax on the benefit of having someone of that calibur working with your company.