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I’m an avid Budgets Are Sexy reader, and I never realized that I, too, was a hustler. It hit me like a ton of bricks, and I knew I had to share it with J$’s readers! This may just be the ultimate hustle, because it’s not just a part time gig – it’s a second career, complete with a retirement check.
By day I’m a special education math teacher at a local high school. It’s a career in which I’ve invested years of time, education and money. I’d always fantasized about serving my country, but I didn’t want to give up my existing career that I genuinely enjoyed. Enter my opportunity with the Air Force Reserve!
How I Got Started
I called a representative through the AF Reserve recruiting website. After a few basic questions (age, drug usage, etc.), they forwarded my information along to my local recruiter. If you already have a degree, it’s possible that you can become a commissioned officer in the Air Force from the get-go. Those already working in the medical fields or ordained ministers can also join under direct commission. Due to saturation of Active Duty members in my area looking to transfer to the Reserves, it was suggested that I enlist and then put in a packet to switch at a later time.
Enlisting involves taking the ASVAB, a standardized test that tests general skills and determines the career areas that you’ll be eligible to pursue. Enlistees also need to go through medical screening at the nearest Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS), meet height and weight requirements, and go through a background check for security clearance. This process took under a month for me, but it can take longer depending on your medical history. You may find that you require a waiver to enlist if you have a more “colorful” past, including significant amounts of debt or excessive legal infractions/tickets.
After a few months, I shipped off to Basic Military Training (BMT) for the Air Force, at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, TX. BMT lasts eight and a half weeks, and prepares you mentally, physically, and emotionally for military service. The process breaks you down as a civilian/individual and builds you up as a team member. Upon completion of BMT, I went to Keesler Air Force Base, Biloxi, MS, where I completed the six week Personnel Apprentice Course.
How Much I Make + Other Benefits
Reservists work one weekend a month, with an additional 15-day period each year. Pay is dependent on your rank and the amount of years you’ve been in the military. If you have special duties or skills, there are also special incentive pays on top of it. I’ve been in less than two years and I’m an E-4, so my pay for four drills (one weekend) is $259.56.
That may not seem like much to you, but you need to consider all of the other benefits and opportunities that I haven’t told you about yet! In the military, I can get Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) for $27.00 a month for full coverage of $400,000. I have comprehensive medical coverage for the ridiculously low premium of $54.35 a month as an individual. If I wanted to get family coverage (my husband’s also a Reservist with his own plan; we have no children), it would be $192.89. I can’t even begin to tell you what a savings that is over my civilian employer’s plan.
Now, these are all of the perks I get as a traditional Reservist, but the Reserves present many opportunities to pick up active duty orders where I can work full-time at my unit. I take advantage of these opportunities every time a school holiday comes up, and picking up a second paycheck pays off in spades! During these time periods, I make pay equivalent to that of an Active Duty member, $1946.70 a month. On top of that, I collect Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), which is $1158.00 if I’m on orders (and the husband’s not) or we both collect $870.00 if we’re on orders simultaneously. If we’re separated due to training or a deployment, the separated member collects $250.00/month. for family separation pay. Both of us collect Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS) at a rate of $348.44/month.
Are you adding this up yet? Those insurance premiums I was paying as a traditional Reservist? Those go away while I’m on orders and I’m automatically covered. This week I went to an eye exam, ordered a new pair of glasses, and filled a prescription, with nothing out of pocket.
I’m also eligible for a VA Home Loan after six years of service, and eligible for the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill immediately. The more time I put on active duty orders, the less I’ll pay for schooling. If I have three years of active duty service, I’ll receive 100% of my G.I. Bill benefits. Hello Ph.D.! Even in the Reserves, I earn college credits in my career field, and with the addition of other credits, I can earn an Associate’s in Applied Science in Human Resource Management through the Community College of the Air Force.
The beauty of being a Reservist is that it’s not just a part-time side hustle. If I put in at least twenty years of service, I’m eligible for retirement. At the age of sixty, I’ll start receiving a retirement check every month, in addition to my pension in my civilian career.
Pros to Being a Reservist
- Ability to maintain a civilian and a military career.
- Opportunity to pick up active duty orders.
- Travel! Some Reservists do their fifteen days of annual tour at a different location – Aviano Air Base, Italy, anyone?
- Ability to serve locally. You pick your duty station – there are no military moves every few years.
- Paid lodging if you’re outside of the commuting area. If you drive more than 50 miles to your base, they’ll put you up in lodging at their expense.
- Free meals on drill weekends for enlisted members.
- All of the other benefits I mentioned above – insurance and education!
- Access to the commissary (grocery store) and base exchange – tax-free purchases at lower rates.
- Military discounts, offered by a number of civilian businesses.
- The opportunity to serve my country.
Cons to Being a Reservist
- Separation from family, although it’s less so than active duty members.
- Deployments, although it’s a matter of perspective.
- The mandatory commitments one weekend a month, fifteen days out of the year. I’ve learned to hesitate before making weekend plans, until I check my calendar. In some instances, your unit may allow you to reschedule a drill weekend.
Success in the Air Force Reserve
I’ve been blessed to have a number of successes in my short career so far. I’ve been recognized and awarded for my accomplishments, my performance, and the efforts I’ve put forward in my training.
As a Reservist, I’m building a second career in a field (Human Resources) unlike my civilian career, including education and training. This opens up more opportunities for me, if I should ever decide to make a switch in my civilian careers. There are also chances to become a civil servant, and do my military job full-time, again, earning two pensions in the end.
How to Join
The first step is to call your local recruiter. You’ll make appointments to see him/her, set up that appointment to go to MEPS, take your ASVAB, select your job, and sign your enlistment contract. While you’re waiting to ship to BMT, prepare yourself for the physical demands you’ll encounter there.
Know Before You Go!
Talking to other Reservists is a great way to get firsthand knowledge about what you’re getting yourself into, aside from the information your recruiter will tell you. Military.com offers resources to help you study for your ASVAB test, and there are countless fitness programs online that you can follow. The Air Force even has an app for that!
Once you have a ship date for BMT, Facebook is a great way to find groups of other trainees preparing to leave in your same month. You can also check out my blog, Aim High Erin, which helps future trainees know what to expect at BMT.
Best of luck if you give it a shot!
Erin Carpenter is the founder of Aim High Erin, and the recipient of the 2012 Milbloggie for the Best U.S. Air Force Blog. You can pick her brain about BMT and the Air Force Reserve on the Aim High Erin Facebook page or on Twitter @AimHighErinAF.
**Have a hustle YOU’D like to share with us? Hit us up and maybe we’ll make you famous ;)
(Photos by Erin’s father, J. Boone Pooler Photography)