Transitioning to the Reserve When You Leave Active Duty

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Life after active duty often means time in the reserves. For many, reserve duty fulfills a military obligation, but it may also help ease the transition from military duty. Serving in the reserves lets you get a start on civilian life while taking advantage of some of the same benefits you enjoyed on active duty. And yes, there's a sense of camaraderie in the reserves you probably won't find in your civilian job.

When you first entered military service, you incurred a military service obligation that may extend beyond your time on active duty. For many service members, that obligation includes a four-year, active-duty commitment and a four-year obligation to the reserves. Some service members fulfill their obligation by re-enlisting and serving on active duty for eight years or more.

If you have not met your commitment when you leave active duty, you'll be required to enter the Selected Reserve or Individual Ready Reserve. Your obligation may be filled in one of several ways, but in all cases, you're subject to recall to active duty. If you have a remaining obligation and do not join the Selected Reserve, you will be automatically assigned to the Individual Ready Reserve.

If a tour in the reserves is in your future, find out about all the details before you make the transition.

Your Reserve Component benefits

Learn more

about VA Benefits for National Guard and Reserve members.

Learn as much as you can about the benefits you will receive if you make the decision to join the reserves:

  • Part-time pay — You will be paid for your service based on rank and service time. Bonuses are sometimes available for service members with high-demand skills.
  • Retirement — You can preserve the retirement benefits you earned on active duty and continue to earn points toward a reserve retirement. To earn retirement, you must complete at least 20 years of active service (including your active-duty years and reserve years). Although reserve service members earn their retirement after 20 years of active service, they usually don't receive it until age 60.
  • Skills training — The skills you gained on active duty will be put to good use when you join the National Guard or reserve. Or, you may choose to retrain in a completely different field, depending on your abilities and the demand for that field. The reserve component has different manpower needs than the active-duty military, so you may have career choices that were not available to you before.
  • Montgomery GI Bill® for Selected Reserve — Selected Reserve service members who sign up for at least six years can get up to 36 months of educational assistance through the MGIB-SR. Visit the Montgomery GI Bill® Selected Reserve site for details. The service branches may add a "kicker," which increases the monthly amount of the Montgomery GI Bill® for service members who qualify for and take jobs in certain high-demand fields.
  • Post-9/11 GI Bill® — Military members who served on active duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001 are eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill®. Depending on the situation, the program includes transfer of benefits to eligible immediate family members (spouse and children), even after military separation.
  • Medical insurance — TRICARE Reserve Select is a premium-based health care plan, available worldwide to most reserve service members and their families when the military member is not on active duty orders. Reserve members on active duty for more than 30 days receive comprehensive medical and dental care at no cost. For complete information, visit the TRICARE website.
  • Dental insurance — Reserve members are eligible for the TRICARE Dental Program, a voluntary, premium-based dental insurance plan.
  • Commissary and exchange privileges — As a member of the reserves, you receive unlimited commissary and exchange privileges, even when you're not drilling or training.
  • Flexibility — The Reserve Component offers plenty of flexibility. Nontraditional types of duty are available and, if you move, you may be able to change your unit affiliation to one near your new home.
  • Staying connected — Many service members find joining the reserves helps fill a void after military separation. That includes working in a familiar, military-style environment and the camaraderie of working with other former service members.

A visit to the retention counselor or transitional recruiter on your installation will give you a good idea of reserve opportunities. Be ready to discuss your career plans, educational goals and potential location. If you visit within 180 days of your separation from active duty, the counselor will be able to discuss specific billets.


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