Wisconsin, 1986: Ann Knabe enlists in the Air Force Reserves during her freshman year of college. “I had no idea what I was getting into. I joined for the money and the opportunity to see the world. I have benefited over and over from that,” says Knabe, now a major.
California, 1987: Jay Delarosa joins the Marine Corp Reserves at 17 years old. “I joined for the challenge, and I also wanted to go to college at the same time,” says Delarosa, a captain. “I went for the toughest challenge I found.”
Connecticut, 2003: Amanda Ponn joins the Army National Guard on her 17th birthday. “I joined the Army mainly for patriotic reasons,” she says. “I love this country and felt that the best way for me to show my support for America was to join the military.”
There are plenty of options to serve the country part time. The U.S. Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy all have Reserve units. The Air Force and Army also have National Guard units. Joining any branch can mean money for school, job training and travel opportunities.
And there are plenty of students who become part-time soldiers. In 2005, more than half a million soldiers served in the Air Force National Guard, Air Force Reserves, Army National Guard, Army Reserves, Coast Guard Reserves, Marine Corp Reserves and Navy Reserves.
All the branches require drills for one weekend a month and two weeks a year. And both the Reserves and National Guard can call soldiers into active duty if necessary.
For their service, National Guard soldiers may receive free tuition (varies by state) while also collecting monthly money from the Montgomery GI Bill and a special “kicker” check. Reservists also receive money from the GI Bill and kicker. Depending on the branch, students might also receive tuition assistance.
Despite the benefits, Delarosa says money is not a good enough reason to join. “The Marines aren’t about the benefits,” he says. “We’re about taking responsibility for your actions, growing up, developing as a person.”
For Knabe, joining the Air Force Reserves as a college freshman helped her gain confidence. “When I joined, I basically had the clothes on my back and a suitcase. That was it,” she says. She
had never been on an airplane and took out a student loan for her first semester’s tuition.
Nineteen years later, Knabe has traveled to South America and Europe as a public affairs specialist. She’s also a public relations instructor at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and says she is able to relate her stories as real-world examples to her students.
Ponn, 19, is assigned to public affairs for her unit. But she’s also a pre-vet major and hopes to one day have her own practice. “Even though I joined mainly for patriotic reasons, it doesn’t hurt that my school is now paid for and I’ve made awesome friends!” she says.
She met those friends during basic training, a 10-week boot camp. “Basic training was a great experience. I had the chance to meet and work with people from all over the country,” she says. “The camaraderie I have experienced in the Army is comparable to being on a very dedicated and bonded sports team.”
Because she hasn’t been deployed, Ponn only has to spend one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer at drill. She’s paid for the drill, almost like a part-time job.
Knabe is required to serve the same as Ponn, but says most reservists volunteer for triple the amount of time on volunteer missions. In September, 2005, Knabe went to New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. Her job was to get the media in and out of the city.
Knabe does most of her drills during the summer. For students who have an upcoming drill weekend, planning ahead can help avoid academic problems.
“If you have an exam and a drill weekend, you might have to negotiate the time you take the exam,” Delarosa says.
At some schools, Reserve students can also join the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). Ponn is also in the Army ROTC, which means more responsibilities when school is in session. Three mornings a week, she has a one-hour physical training session. She also has a two-hour class each week and a four-hour class that meets once or twice each month.
It’s a busy schedule, but Ponn says she has never been in better physical condition. Travel is another perk, though Delarosa says, “Most of the time, you’re working.”
And a soldier can either get stuck with a low-morale unit or get lucky with a high-energy group. “It varies from unit to unit,” Delarosa says.
Either way, Delarosa recommends that if you’re considering the Reserves or National Guard, don’t get caught up in the sales pitches about the benefits like free tuition or travel. “For the Marine Corps, it’s selling the lifestyle and institution,” he says.