Ready Reserve. Units and individuals subject to recall for active duty in time of war, national emergency, or when otherwise authorized by law. There are two subcategories of the Ready Reserve, the Selected Marine Corps Reserve (SMCR) and the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR).
SMCR. Consists of three elements – SMCR units, individual mobilization augmentées (IMA), and the Active Reserve (AR).
SMCR units. Marine Forces Reserve (MFR)- 4th MarDiv, 4th MAW, 4th Marine Logistics Group, and force units – make up SMCR units and are scattered throughout the United States. It is not unusual for units of the same organization to be separated by hundreds of miles. SMCR units are responsible for all administrative (including pay), supply, and medical requirements of the Reserve Marines attached to them. At a bare minimum, SMCR unit Marines complete 48 drill periods (normally 1 weekend a month) and 2 weeks annual training duty (ATD) each year. SMCR unit billets are 3 years long, after which you need to either reapply or find another position elsewhere. There are over 180 SMCR units scattered throughout the country.
IMA. IMA Marines are not members of an SMCR unit. They are individual Reserve Marines with skill sets of need to the AC forces, Department of Defense, or other governmental agencies. Typically IMA Marines are assigned to staff billets. Their administrative (including pay) requirements are completed by MFR. In most instances their supply and medical requirements are supplied by the unit to which they are attached. IMA Marines also have 48 drill periods and 2 weeks ATD each year. IMA drill periods are individually scheduled between the reservist and the unit he is augmenting.
AR. These are former AC or SMCR Marines who, because of their particular MOS skills, are placed on extended active duty to support SMCR units. Depending upon their MOS, these Marines may or may not have a career pattern enabling them to retire after 20 years active service.
IRR. The IRR is composed of Reserve Marines who have not completed their mandatory service obligation or Marines who have completed their mandatory service obligation but have voluntarily agreed to stay in the IRR. IRR Marines are subject to recall to active duty. They do have a requirement to keep their uniforms and inform MFR of their location in the event they are to be recalled to active duty. They do not have a requirement to attend drills or ATD. They may take Marine Corps Institute courses or be members of a mobilization training unit in order to receive retirement points but do not receive pay for either. They may also apply for limited ATD opportunities for both retirement points and pay.
Inspector/Instructor. These are the AC and AR Marines attached to every SMCR unit in the MFR. They are the heavy lifters who keep the SMCR units up and running between drills and train Reserve Marines during drill periods and ATDs. Between drills they answer the phone; plan for the training events; resolve administrative, medical, and supply issues; make casualty calls; and much, much more. SMCR units could not exist without them, and they are often underappreciated and overworked.
Drill period. A drill period is equal to 4 or more hours of time and is equated to 1 day’s pay. It is also worth one retirement point. A drill weekend normally is composed of four drill periods.
ATD. ATD is when an SMCR unit/ individual does its/his traditional 2 weeks of annual duty. ATDs vary from 12 to 14 days in length. Each day of ATD equates to 1 day of pay and 1 retirement point. The ATD location can vary greatly for both SMCR units and IMA Marines.
Satisfactory year. This term is applied to any year in which a Reserve Marine has 50 retirement points. Each Reserve Marine’s starting date for a satisfactory year is that individual’s pay entry base date. Each Reserve Marine in the SMCR or IRR automatically receives 15 points per year. SMCR and IMA Marines are allowed 48 drill periods and up to 14 days ATD, which equates to an additional 62 points. Consequently, if in a constant drill status, earning enough points for a satisfactory year is not difficult. You may also earn retirement points when with the IRR by completing the traditional Marine Corps Institute (mail or compact disk) or by taking courses offered by MarineNet. It’s important to monitor your points carefully to ensure that you earn the required 50 points each year. You need 20 good years to qualify for retirement pay at age 60. Each year on active duty will count as a satisfactory year (e.g., 6 years active duty plus 14 good Reserve years equals 20 good years for retirement purposes).
Retirement benefits. After you complete 20 or more satisfactory years and retire from the Reserves, you will enter what is officially called “awaiting pay at age 60” or unofficially dubbed a “gray area Marine.” You will not collect your retirement pay, in most cases, until you reach age 60. When you finally get your check, the amount will be computed using your rank, number of years of service, and total number of retirement points. Of these three, the item you have the most personal control over is your total number of retirement points. If you and another reservist retire at the same rank and with the same number of years of service, the Marine with the largest number of retirement points will receive the larger check. Reserve Marines with active duty time will receive a retirement point for each day of active duty and, in most cases, will have a larger retirement check than a Marine with only Reserve time. Gray area Marines may use morale, recreation, and welfare; exchange; and commissary facilities at all military bases.
In addition to retirement pay at age 60, all qualifying Reserve Marines may enroll in Tricare as a second payer for health insurance purposes. When reaching age 65 and enrolling in Medicare, you m ust sign up for Medicare Part B or Tricare will automatically stop.
In today’s fiscal environment, many companies either do not offer a pension plan or are in the process of drastically scaling back on their current plan. More than one financial planner, after hearing the details of Reserve retirement pay and Tricare, has told me that the combination is equivalent to a civilian having a $1,000,000 savings account at retirement time.
Immediate fiscal considerations. By this time you have done the math and quickly realized that you will not be able to live on what you earn as an SMCR reservist. Pay for participating is meant to be a supplemental income not your livelihood. When attending a drill weekend, your lodging (if you live over 50 miles away) is paid for by your unit. However, travel costs and meals are at your own expense. There may be times when the cost of travel and meals will be more than your drill pay. When attending SMCR unit ATD, travel from the drill center to the ATD location and meals at the ATD location are paid for by your unit. When attending IMA ATD, travel and meals from your home of record to the ATD location are paid for by your unit.
I realize there are bonuses being offered to AC Marines to join the Reserves. I will not cover this area, but encourage you, as in all contracts, to read the fine print before signing the dotted line.
Tricare Reserve Select allows SMCR Marines to purchase a health care plan at very reasonable rates. This benefit is extremely valuable if you work for a company that does not offer free or affordable health insurance. Unfortunately this program is not available to IRR Marines. It is also not available to those who are eligible for, or enrolled in, the Federal Employee Health Benefits program. One SMCR Marine informed me of Tricare Reserve Select covering one of his dependent’s $400,000 per year health care costs.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will allow you to deduct expenses (travel and meals) when you leave from your primary occupation (your day-to-day job) to your secondary occupation (Reserve position). You cannot leave from your home and claim this deduction. The IRS would expect to see original receipts for mileage, plane fare, rental cars, and meals if selected for an audit. (On a personal note, in over 23 years as a drilling reservist and taking these deductions, I was never audited.)
Time management. As a drilling reservist you will always be balancing three major portions of your life – your family, your civilian job, and your Reserve commitments. All three demand your attention in varying degrees in a never-ending battle for your time. Those who succeed in making the Reserves a career find a way to balance this very real tug of war. This tug of war is the main reason some Reserve Marines take a break from their Reserve commitments from time to time and end up with a bad year. They realize their job or family needs more of their time than they have available while actively participating. So they take a break, work things out, and then sign back up.
Your civilian occupation is of necessity a very important part of this time management factor. The time spent as a reservist must not be burdensome to your employer or impede your potential promotion. When considering a Reserve career, having a military supportive employer is very beneficial.
Marine requirements. Life as a reservist is not much different from the AC. You still have to go to the rifle/ pistol range, take physical fitness tests, write performance evaluations, train your Marines in both their MOSs and the unit’s mission, and meet all other requirements of the AC. You just have much, much less time to work with. Your personal physical conditioning is done between drills – on your own time. The same goes for writing performance evaluations on your Marines and planning for future drills and ATDs. And don’t forget time to maintain contact with your AC or AR counterpart to ensure that everything is going as planned. As a rule of thumb, I always cautioned officers to plan on spending 10 to 20 hours between drills doing “Marine things” or risk falling behind.
Promotions in the Reserve are the same as with the AC with a promotion board selecting the “best and most fully qualified.” When comparing records, which Reserve Marine do you feel would meet that standard – one who is an active participant in the SMCR or IMA program, or one who spends a majority of his time in the IRR? In the case of Reserve promotions your consistent participation adds credibility for your briefer to use in promoting your case.
Primary military education, or schools, are also board selected based upon the school, your application, number of seats available, number of applicants, and the needs of the Marine Corps Reserve. Most Reserve schools are 2 weeks in length and may be considered your ATD for that fiscal year. Full time (resident) school seats are available on a limited basis to reservists; however, be sure to consider your civilian employment when applying.
Billet openings in either an SMCR unit or IMA detachment are not always easy to find, particularly as you progress in rank. As in the AC, the number of billets is best illustrated as a pyramid with junior officers or enlisted as the base and the number of senior billets available becoming smaller as you progress in rank. By the time you reach senior ranks, there are usually more personnel than billets available. Internet searching is a way to start for junior Marines. However, as you become more senior, I have found maintaining personal contact with other AR and Reserve Marines is often the best way to learn of billet openings.
Why join? You join the Marine Reserves for the same reasons you joined the Marine Corps in the first place. You wanted a challenge; you wanted to be part of something larger than yourself; you wanted to feel you were a part of an organization that could make a difference. All of these hold true for the Reserves.