Growing up in West Virginia, Analisa Blackwood says she was “so pampered and sheltered.” Her parents “did everything” for her, and she says she didn’t have a lot of self-discipline. But after five years in the Army Reserves, including a six-month classified deployment, Blackwood says she now has direction.
“I joined because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do right out of high school,” says Blackwood. “I really didn’t have a plan. Instead of going to college right away and wasting money, I decided to join the Reserve.”
She gained a bit of college credit through Reserve training and recently started classes at West Virginia University in Morgantown. Her five years in the Reserve pays off when the tuition bill is due. “The financial benefit is a very big deal. They pay almost all my tuition,” she says.
Tuition assistance is one of the benefits boasted by all of the reserve components of the military services. The Montgomery GI Bill and the Montgomery GI Bill “kicker” offer students monthly pay. Reservists also receive a monthly drill pay for their commitment of one weekend a month and two weeks a year.
Reservists are considered part-time soldiers and train close to home. But one weekend a month can easily swell to full deployment. Army Reserve Sergeant Matthew Poremba was deployed to Iraq for more than a year.
“I was deployed in February 2003, and I got back March 2004,” says Poremba, a who studies history at WVU. “I understood what I was getting into when I first joined the Army. I was willing to go, and I had no complaints.”
For 13 months, Poremba served in Balad, a small city 20 miles north of Baghdad. “I was on an adrenaline high the full time I was over there,” he says. “Coming back, the most stressful thing you have is finals. That didn’t seem like anything to me anymore.”
Adjusting to campus life after Iraq was difficult—Poremba says it’s hard to listen to classmates complain how “they can’t afford a nice car when people overseas are just happy to get a meal.”
Blackwood was deployed for six months. She works as a chemical operations specialist and is trained in the decontamination process.
Working part-time in the Reserve can be helpful when it comes time to search for full-time work. Air Force Reserve Command Recruiter Master Sergeant Nikkia Harden says learning a trade makes a service member more marketable.
“Normally, employers like to hire individuals who have military experience. It shows they have discipline and the core values that we have,” she says.
Discipline is a must for students considering the Reserves. Though Reserve services is marketed as a part-time commitment, recruits must attend boot camp.
Poremba trained for 17 weeks in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. And as an active member of the Reserve, he can be deployed again. “The Reserve is a federally run system, so we don’t get called out [if there is a flood]. We don’t get called out unless there is a war,” he says.
Blackwood is also prepared for another deployment. “The risk of being deployed is a possibility if you’re in any service,” she says.
Risks can range from deployment to training challenges. Poremba went to airborne school and learned to jump out of a plane. “Everything in the Army is how much you want to do,” he says.
Travel is something both Poremba and Blackwood wanted to experience. Poremba has been to Germany twice, to the Czech Republic, and is heading to Egypt next year.
The Army and Air National Guard are two more reserve component opportunities. Benefits and service requirements are similar to the other reserve components, except National Guard members also respond to state and local emergencies.
Working as a military policeman in Iraq helped Poremba prep for a career in law enforcement with a federal agency. After graduation, he says, he wants to spend a few years as a full-time soldier.
But he recommends not joining the Reserves only for the career training or tuition benefits. “People shouldn’t do it just for financial reasons,” he says. “They should join because they want to do something for their country.”
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