Morale: Taking Some Pain Out of Activation


January 27, 2006: While the U.S. military reserves are still having problems keeping people in uniform, and recruiting new troops, these retention problems are not nearly bad as was expected. This, it turned out, had a lot to do with the fact that, on average, reservists made $850 more a month while on active duty, than they did when they were civilians, working their civilian jobs. This disparity was long known in the reserves. It was openly admitted by many reservists that they joined for the money. Many reservists considered their part-time military duties to be just another part-time job. Those in the National Guard also liked the idea of being called out in emergencies, and given the opportunity to do something useful in those situations. But when called up for extended periods, most reservists had done the math, and knew they would also get a temporary pay raise.

Many reservists are also people who had been on active duty, and wanted to maintain some connections with the military life. Others have joined because the local reserve unit is kind of a social club, and if you have friends there, you go with them. But, like volunteer fire departments or ambulance units, the part-time soldiers tend to do a good job when activated. At that point, money is less an issue than is sorting out all the problems that come up when you have to go away form an extended period of time.

Not everyone made more money. About 28 percent of reservists took a pay cut when they were mobilized. Some took a big his, as in more than ten percent. But these are the ones the media usually went after, not the majority who were getting something of a financial windfall. But there were other downsides to consider as well. There was chance (a few percent) of getting injured, wounded or killed. While laws protect your civilian job while you are away, you sometimes have to hire a lawyer to get your job back when you return. Separation from family can be a strain, although free email and cheap phone service have taken a lot of the sting out of that.

The additional money came in many forms. In addition to base pay, which can be quite good if you have some rank (NCO or officer) and time in service, there are also things like family separation allowances, combat or hazardous duty pay and tax-free earnings if you are in a combat zone. It adds up, and if you are in Iraq or Afghanistan, you don't have much opportunity to spend it. So you come home with a nice nest egg saved up.

The facts of relative pay were discovered as part of a RAND study of the experience of 212,500 reservists between 2001-3. Since then, Congress has provided more money for reservists.


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