Hold Something In Reserve

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Is a clean break really best when you leave service? Many people miss the camaraderie, adventure, excitement, training and social aspects of military life.  

From Civvy Street #45 (March 2014)

‘Before leaving the Army in 2007 I tried to make the transition easier,’ explains Matt Fincham. ‘I started spending weekends where I’d be living, to make friends nearby. I joined a rugby team. But the most valuable thing I did was becoming a Reservist.’

Reservists are ex-Regular or civilian volunteers who commit to staying fit and training for a minimum number of days each year – some evenings and weekends, plus a mandatory annual two-week camp. Commitment is just 19 days, with no annual camp for up to 3 years, for ex-Regulars who have recently left the Army. Fitting this training around their civilian jobs, Reservists provide additional military capability for times of need, while earning a second income.

‘I’m glad I applied before leaving, as it took a while to get in. When I was made redundant from a civilian role, increasing my training and getting paid more was great,’ adds Fincham, a PR consultant in a London-based Squadron of the Royal Yeomanry. ‘As was the tax-free bounty for completing the minimum number of days.’

Offer Something Different

‘The Army Reserve is not a team of part-time Regulars,’ says Mandie Cran, who left the REME twenty years ago to start a family with her submariner husband. ‘Civilians bring different and valuable perspectives, leadership and communication skills, which really complement the Regulars.’

The Army Reserve is the largest of the Reserve Forces, and is expanding and changing significantly.

‘Regulars assume the Reserve must be inferior because we only train part time,’ says Cran, ‘But it’s professionally run. When we work alongside Regulars, I often hear “Gosh, you guys are really good!”’

Step Up or Step Back

Of course once you’ve joined, if your Reserve unit is mobilised you could be away for several months.

‘Mobilisation is difficult if you’ve just started a new job, business or family. But ex-Regulars can defer mobilisation for up to three years after leaving the Army,’ Cran states. ‘You also need to be physically fit to pass the mobilisation assessment, which usually rules out new mothers.’

Fincham feels the benefits outweigh any commitments: ‘The Reserve supplements my income when business is down, offers a great network for job enquiries, and lets me enjoy sports like skiing and sailing.’

If civilian life takes over, you can join the unposted list and step back until ready for a Reserve role again.

Impress Employers

‘My first employer, a PR agency, felt positive towards Reservists; the second was in the Defence Industry and even more supportive,’ says Fincham. ‘But not all employers are. Check websites to see who has Reservist HR policies, and ask around for advice.

Larger companies often welcome transferable Army Reserve skills; their HR policies may reflect this with extra training leave. Smaller companies may negotiate additional leave.

‘Few jobs are 9-5 these days: it can be awkward in a new job to say you need to leave on time every Wednesday for drill night,’ says Fincham. ‘It may be better to request favours later, once you’ve already proved your worth.’

Choose Your Priorities 

Cran is delighted with the balance she has struck between Reserve and civilian life. Moving frequently with her husband’s postings and their two children, the Army Reserve has provided continuity, community and extra income, while keeping her current and challenged.

‘As a Regular, my job came first, family second. The Reserve is totally different: for most of us family comes first, job second, and the Reserve third. It took me nearly a year to adjust to that mindset – since then I’ve really felt the benefit of how it works. In twenty years I’ve gone from being a full time mother to being a full Colonel in the Reserve, alongside running my own business. If I can do that, anyone can.’