Side Hustle Series: I’m an Air Force Reservist

by J. Money on Thursday, July 26, 2012

air force reserves

(Side Hustle by Erin Carpenter, as part of our Side Hustle Series)

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

erin reserves awardsI’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)


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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lance @ Money Life and More July 26, 2012 at 7:15 am

Wow that’s awesome Erin. Thanks for serving our country! Military benefits are some of the best out there. My dad was navy 20 years and now that he is retired he gets ridiculously cheap medical insurance. The retirement benefits are pretty sweet as well. If it is something you love it is a great side hustle and way to pick up some extra money. Thanks again!

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2 Mrs. Money Mustache July 26, 2012 at 8:44 am

Excellent post with tons of great information! I find myself interested in the air force even though I’ve never considered joining before! :) It’s a part of life I know nothing about so thanks for the sneak peek and for teaching me something new today.

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3 Erin @ Aim High Erin July 26, 2012 at 9:04 am

@Lance – Thanks, my pleasure! Glad to share about my experience on here! I told J$ in conversation that working this entire summer (much to the shock of my teacher co-workers) is allowing me to pay off a credit card, to the tune of $4000ish, in addition to the job skills/proficiency I’m picking up along with it.

@Mrs. Money Mustache – Thanks! Glad to expose you to this side of serving! I was very worried when I sent off my article, because I don’t want people to think that my heart’s not in the right place. The money is a huge side perk, but your first love needs to be for service, in my mind, if you’re going to be in it for the long haul.

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4 Amy Lou July 26, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Great post, thanks! I’m 33 and I’ve been wishing I could join since I was 22… I took the ASVAB and scored well (92 or 94, I don’t remember), but I was offered a full time job the day before MEPS and didn’t go. As it turns out, I have “hyperinsulism” which is on the list of unacceptable medical conditions for all military branches. It just means that I produce too much insulin and have to eat every 2-3 hours, which doesn’t work for military training. I probably wouldn’t even have made it through fasting/exercising at MEPS. Still bums me out!

Thank you for your service!

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5 Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager July 26, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Thanks for serving! Definitely seems like an interesting perspective of a side hussle.

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6 Meg July 26, 2012 at 1:51 pm

I’ve thought about this if it comes down to it and I needed something…. Ironically because the Air Force makes it harder for me to map out any sort of career, to be honest. But I fail to justify any of it when I’m signing up for a willing separation. I already deal with deployments and all of the BS that comes with Active Duty. I just can’t see adding more to that. (I’m not quite sure I want a career anyhow, I’m happy to just have a job that pays what I need it to while we deal with the military.)

Then again, to me the military is normal life. Regular civilian life seems so different. Though I always leave it as an option if I need or want it. Such as wanting to be an officer so people leave us alone about our cars…. *sigh*

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7 Cassie July 26, 2012 at 4:10 pm

Thank you for your service and a peek into military life! I’ve though about joining the Marines, but I’m not sure how well I would do out at sea. Maybe becoming a Reservist is something I should consider. :)

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8 Erin @ Aim High Erin July 26, 2012 at 8:26 pm

@Amy Lou – I can only imagine how devastating that was. I feared that something would come up at MEPS or that I’d get sick/injured while at BMT. All I wanted to do was make it through! You tried, and that’s more than many people can say. Kudos to you!

@Jenna – Thank you! I really don’t consider it that much of a side hustle, because I honestly love serving and love what I do! From a strictly financial sense though, it’s a fabulous side hustle!

@Meg – Are you a milspouse now, I’m assuming? I’m in a dual military marriage myself. Transitioning from AD to Reserve is challenging. My husband was out of work for a year while I was supporting the two of us and his father. Now we’re both Reservists, which is fairly common in my Wing. One member being active just makes things a bit more challenging, but it can be done. Fortunately you can transfer to duty stations nearest the AD member, or reschedule drills to get more than one done in a shot, so you’re not flying back to your duty station every month. Good luck to you!

@Cassie – Thank you! I really love being a Reservist. For me, it’s the best of both worlds and I serve with pride. I’m thankfully that I finally made the commitment, and will therefore never regret wondering if I could’ve done it. Look into it, it’s always worth a shot!

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9 J. Money July 29, 2012 at 10:17 am

Thanks for the inside scoop Erin!! All of this reminds me of my childhood growing up in a military family – I freakin’ loved it!!! And my siblings and I were the first generation to break the line of service members in our family – we all turned out to be artists in some fashion or another instead, haha… Really REALLY love the military though in more ways than one, I’m glad you’re enjoying it so much :)

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10 min July 20, 2014 at 2:33 pm

Thanks for your service! I was wondering how often do you get deployed? I’m an undergraduate student who finished my 2nd year in college. I have 2 years and was wondering would joining the reserves mean I’d have to deploy for a year or so. I’m willing to take a semester off for BMT and job training.

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11 Erin @ Aim High Erin December 14, 2014 at 11:41 pm

Sorry I’m just seeing this – I was away at military training. I have yet to be deployed and I’m about to celebrate my 4th year in the Air Force. Many deployments that I’ve seen are voluntary – they’re looking for people who want to go, and there are a number of people ready to do so. I have heard rumblings about eventually deploying as a unit, but I don’t know how that will affect us. Again, four years since I’ve enlisted and I’m still waiting on that first deployment. Others that went to BMT with me are about to go back for a second time, but most are willing and did so voluntarily.

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12 Andrew December 12, 2014 at 2:16 pm

“I collect Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), which is $1158.00 if I’m on orders (and the husband’s not)” — Can you please elaborate? I am considering joining the AF Reserves as well, not for pay and benefits, but to to serve. However I need to know before I make a decision the Total base pay and additional benefits I can expect per month. Every military website make it seem like a fantasy dream come true and there is a lot of “”may be”, “can be”, “possibly” eligible for” (only if the stars align)…. and in order to plan my life I would prefer some clear cut information without the BS added on top. Thank you for your service and any info/advice you provide.

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13 Erin @ Aim High Erin December 14, 2014 at 11:47 pm

Totally understandable. You will not receive BAH unless you’re on active duty orders. If I am doing a normal drill (referred to as a UTA), I do not receive BAH. Take a look at the pay charts for “four drills” – it’s actually four pay periods (morning and evening of the two weekend days). That is your gross pay before federal, state, and FICA taxes, and any SGLI (life insurance) you choose to have debited. That is what you can expect. If you choose to purchase Tricare Reserve Select health insurance, that is another $204.58 (give or take a few cents) a month that you pay for separately. While you’re away at training, the deal is “sweetened” a bit – if gone for more than 30 days, you receive a family separation pay of $250 per month and you receive active duty pay and BAH (refer to the active duty pay charts). You also receive health insurance during that time (over 30 days), so if you’re previously been paying Tricare premiums, those are stopped during this time. Does that help answer your question? Please let me know if I haven’t addressed something.

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14 Andrew December 12, 2014 at 2:19 pm

In addition to my last question – How likely is it for a reservist to be able to gain additional work/pay aside from weekend drills? Where have you spent your 2 week annual trips for duty? Thanks again.

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15 Erin @ Aim High Erin December 14, 2014 at 11:50 pm

It really depends on the need of your unit, your skill level, and the federal budget. The start of the fiscal year is always the roughest. From October until now is really bad, due to continuing resolutions and unsigned budgets. I would not depend on this for a sole source of income because it is hit or miss. As for my annual tours, no where cool yet, although other squadrons and groups in my Wing have gone to Japan, the UK, and Alaska. I have spent mine at my home station, but they have been great at accommodating my civilian work schedule.

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16 d. walker May 12, 2015 at 2:34 pm

If I’ve. Signed up for. A.f. reserve and don’t. Go for. Duty because. I moved from. The. State. I signed up in to another. State. What. Happens

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17 Erin @ Aim High Erin April 13, 2016 at 11:59 am

You’d still have to commute back to the original state for drill until you secure a new position in your current state of residence. There is some flexibility to reschedule, but ultimately, you are responsible for getting there.

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18 jacqueline jones May 21, 2015 at 8:41 am

This is the same reason and insight that I had on now joining the AF Reserves. I work at a correctional officer for the juvenile department. I have worked for the corrections for adults and just want more.

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19 Erin @ Aim High Erin April 13, 2016 at 12:00 pm

I think this would be perfect for you, and you could totally find a career field in the Air Force that is in line with your civilian career (or not) to diversify your skillset. Good luck to you!

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20 J. Washington June 24, 2015 at 5:29 pm

Once part of the Air Force reserve and you remain in school to get your master and doctorate degree will it be hard for me to go active duty? Since I will have my doctorate degree and be more value to a certain career ex ( public health)in the Air Force versus when I first came in

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21 Erin @ Aim High Erin April 13, 2016 at 12:02 pm

The medical fields are easier to get into, for sure, so that might help you. Overall, switching from Reserve to AD can be a challenge, but medical/chaplaincy/legal is typically easier because they’re in higher demand. Good luck to you! You can use Tuition Assistance to help pay for that Master’s Degree too, which doesn’t tap into your G.I. Bill.

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22 J. Garcia April 9, 2016 at 11:26 am

Thanks Erin. great report.
I recently became a US Citizen, and I have been looking to join the Air Force as a reservist for years. I have an engineering degree and I working for a high-tech company. I want to follow the legacy of my step-dad and brother who are currently in active duty in the US Army. The only problem is that I am running out of time, since I am 33 years old, and I will be 34 in October.
But saying this, with my background in engineering, I can also add value to the Air Force.
What are your thoughts in regards to my age?

Thanks.

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23 Erin @ Aim High Erin April 13, 2016 at 12:03 pm

Thank you! Are you hoping to commission or go in on the enlisted side? If you’re enlisting, you still have some time left. If you’re trying to commission, which is definitely an option with your engineering degree, I would reach out to an officer recruiter ASAP to start the process. There were plenty of 30 year old enlistees when I went through BMT back in 2011, so you won’t be alone if you go that route. Good luck to you!

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24 Pau April 13, 2016 at 10:47 am

In my case I am a graduate student who currently has a full time job and goes to school part time at night. If I join to the air force reserve and go to BMT, I heard the law protects me on keeping my job, but my question is what about my salary while I am on BMT, because I am used to my salary for paying my bill, rent, etc. what would happen while on BMT? how pays my salary?

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25 Erin @ Aim High Erin April 13, 2016 at 12:06 pm

You’d be getting full-time Active Duty pay while at BMT. In some instances, there are (I’m assuming private) companies that will pay the difference between your regular salary and your military pay, if there is a difference, but you’d have to ask your employer. In my case, I actually make more money when I’m doing military training than I get from my civilian employer, so I haven’t had to worry about it. My job pays me for up to 15 days while on duty, and then after that I don’t get paid from my civilian employer. So, for 15 days a year, I’m getting doubly paid. Your employer may do something similar.

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26 Fields April 15, 2016 at 12:06 pm

I have been considering joining the air force reserves for awhile now but I don’t feel like I completely understand what it means to join, are you able to leave at some point or are you required to serve for a certain amount of years?

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27 Erin @ Aim High Erin May 7, 2016 at 11:47 am

You will sign a contract, typically 6 years with an additional two on the end when you’re inactive (but can be called back anytime). There are folks that go inactive during those six years, but it is not an easy or a quick process.

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28 Eliza Belle April 21, 2016 at 2:02 pm

Such useful information, thank you! I have interest in joining the reserve this year, however I have a toddler. I am thinking of the time spent away from her and my husband for BMT and school. How have other people around you dealt with that? Do you see it a lot?

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29 Erin @ Aim High Erin May 7, 2016 at 11:50 am

I have been in this situation myself – my DD was 16 months when I left for two months of OTS, and then later for another two months of school. It’s very common. It’s challenging, but you have to think big picture benefits and positive outcomes for your family.

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30 Adolfo May 4, 2016 at 6:53 pm

Hello,

First of all I would like to thank you for your service.

I was looking into the AF Reserve and it caught my attention. I am in my mid 20s and currently work full time and go to college part time. I need 2 more math classes and I will obtain 2 Associates degrees. Then I will be able to transfer to a university. However, I was looking into becoming a Boom Operator as a reservist and I know where there is a AFB nearby me in the SF Bay Area. Which is Travis AFB, about 90 mins from the Bay Area.
So if I do go in, it will not be a far commute. My question is regarding deployment and I will specify more in the next few sentences. I am not afraid to deploy and within the service I know that the needs of the Air Force come before any of my own personal needs. My best friend was an E-5 in the Army (He just got out this year) and told me that once you’re in even as a reservist if they call you to go. You go! I’ve read some posts here that most reservist volunteer to deploy but at any time; one can be called and your off.

My life long dream is to become an airline pilot. Flight school is really expensive and I work a lot to save the funds I need to complete a professional pilot course. I have been in flight school before and need about 13 hours to take my Private Pilot Check ride. I have about half saved up to finish the Professional course but it will still be about a year for me to save the remaining funds. Ergo, I am not looking to fly as a pilot in the military as I don’t have my bachelor’s yet and would need to go trough OTS. I am going the civilian route to become an airline pilot and wanted to know how the reserve’s were from your experience, and if any way the Reserves can help me with my flying education. Also, I have become somewhat bored with my life. I’d like something different, something great, and why not look into the reserves? Aviation is my passion and I see the reserves as a great chance to serve my nation and meet great people in the Air Force. I’m sure being a reservist will be great for my life background and when I’m a pilot for an airline someday.

How is your experience so far? Do you interact with flight crews? Any advice you can give me I will truly appreciate, sorry for the long post.

All the best and thank you once again.

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31 Erin @ Aim High Erin May 7, 2016 at 11:55 am

Adolfo, thank you. You sound like a great candidate for the AF Reserve, and Travis is a great/busy location. Lots of action for you there! Fortunately, there typically aren’t short notice taskings (deployments) in the AFR, so that helps. I know my base has a flying club, so there are opportunities for you to get flight hours and training in at a discounted rate as a military member – seems ideal for you. As a boom operator, you will definitely have contact with flight crews and good interactions with the flight crew. You would be an aircrew member, so you’ll work hand in hand with them. Who knows, OTS is still possible for you, and you’d be able to use Tuition Assistance to help pay for some of your schooling!

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32 Adolfo May 11, 2016 at 3:34 am

Sounds great! Hopefully I can join in late December of this year. I just want to get my two Associates degrees before I sign up. Thank you for telling me about the flying clubs, I will definitely look for some at Travis AFB when the time comes. I love being around airplanes and I feel the AF Reserves is right for me. As for the Tuition Assistance hopefully that helps with some of my flying or to finish getting my Bachelor’s.

As for the 2 weeks of training per year, does one train at your local base? or can you ask to train at a different base? Maybe even overseas?

Oh, and what rank would I be after BMT? with my Associates degree? I looked and it seems I would be an E-3 Airman First Class, but I’m not in the military so I think it is best to ask you.

All the best!

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33 Earvin West May 5, 2016 at 1:45 pm

Hi Erin,

Thank you for taking the time out to create this blog and share your personal experience. I have found it super helpful while enlisting in the Air Force Reserve. I am scheduled to swear in tomorrow and most likely will ship out to BMT in July. I have two quick questions for you and they are regarding pay. I am sorry if you have answered these before I didn’t see any metion in Q&A sections. I will be joining the reserves with my Bachelors degree so I will receive the advanced rank of E-3. Did you receive pay equivalent to an E-3 all throughout BMT and Tech School? Also, how long was it before your first pay was deposited into your bank acct? I have heard horror stories about pay being delayed weeks and pay not being accurate. Have you had an issue with either?

Thanks,

Earvin

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34 Erin @ Aim High Erin May 7, 2016 at 11:58 am

First off, congrats on your enlistment! Yes, you’ll be paid as an E-3 the entire time, which is nice. Some folks have payment issues. Hopefully you have a good recruiter who can get you into the system and get all of your info going before you leave. Reservists tend to have fewer issues with this in comparison to other components, because we do much of our own legwork prior to leaving, and you’ll have a CAC card before you leave. Good luck to you!

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