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What's it like to be a Reservist?

Updated: Jan 17, 2022

There are over 35,000 Marines in the Reserve force, both officer and enlisted. Reservists complement the Active force by maintaining readiness to support emergency operations, humanitarian missions, and wartime operations.

The steps to become a Reservist are for the most part the exact same as a prospective Active-Duty Marine would take. This all starts with meeting a Recruiter or Officer Selection Officer (OSO). The screening steps include medical, dental, aptitude testing, and background checks. A key difference from Active-Duty accessions, is that all Enlisted Reservists will know their exact MOS and unit prior to attending boot camp. This is done because they are typically assigned to a unit close to their home or within a short traveling distance nearby. Officers will not learn their specific MOS or unit until they attend TBS.

Enlisted Reservists attend boot camp like normal. They have the same graduation requirements, so the must successfully graduate from training. After graduation, they will attend SOI/MCT directly, but those with follow-on MOS training may be sent home to their reporting unit. In general terms, this is done so those enrolled in college can continue their education uninterrupted. Others may be sent home if there is a backlog in students for their assigned MOS school. No matter the reason for the delay, their home units will schedule a time for them to attend MOS training so they can operate with the unit, usually the next summer. Officer Reservists must graduate from OCS, then TBS. Just as their enlisted counterparts, officers in the Reserves must meet every graduation requirement as if they were Active-Duty. They will normally complete all of their training in a single stint, which can take upwards of a year to complete.

Once all their entry-level training is completed, Reservists conduct training and operations with their assigned units. Unlike Active-Duty Marines, Reservists fall into a number of different categories:

  • Selected Marine Corps Reserve (SMCR) - Typically known as "weekend warriors." These Marines complete periods of "drill," or training periods away from their normal civilian lives.

  • Active Reserve (AR) - These Reservists serve full-time on extended periods as an Active-Duty Marine would. They are normally assigned to a unit in the Fleet or Supporting Establishment to fulfill a specific role for three to twelve months at a time.

  • Individual Marine Augmentee (IMA) - These Marines are assigned to an active or reserve unit to fulfill a special function. They have very non-standard drill schedules which could be random weekdays each month or a solid month-long period each year. This all depends on the job they are specially selected for.

  • Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) - The reserve to the Reserves. These men and women have recently completed their service active service obligation, yet are still contractually required to be on call for the Corps. Typically, IRR Marines will muster once a year, but will only be activated in times of war.

The vast majority of Marines in the Reserves are assigned to the SMCR, so we will discuss this component in further detail. The ubiquitous weekend warriors report to their drill location once a month for training and complete an annual two-week training period. During their weekend drills they will normally complete annual training, clean weapons, and execute small mission packages planned to simulate their unit's mission. Reservists are paid in accordance with their pay grade whenever they drill, so this often supports their normal salaries or assists those who are enrolled in higher education. On occasion, Reserve units are activated to fulfill special roles in the continental U.S. or overseas to support a variety of operations. This allows Reservists to learn key skills in practical environments, and also to relieve the pressure of a difficult operational tempo on the Active-Duty force. Reservists are entitled to hold a Common Access Card (CAC), so they will have access to military bases, exchanges, commissaries, and other base amenities. They are also able to enroll in Tricare Reserve Select and United Concordia Dental for themselves and their families.

In conclusion, the Reserves is a great place for those who want to serve their country, but are unable to commit to full-time service, whether it be due to family, education, or a myriad of other reasons.

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