Like many transitioning Navy-types, I had grand notions of having a successful civilian career in the inland rivers industry. I also fancied maneuvering through the Naval ranks and progressing to the highest ideals of the Navy Reserve. Enter kids, family, mortgage, 24/7 civilian job operations schedule, wife’s home business, church, etc.
Life takes on a life of its own, and you hold on with white knuckles and wait for a break.
As I floundered through my first years of reserve time, I thought “How the hell do people make this work with a private industry career that goes 24/7?” I simply don’t have the time to make the commitments for longer terms of mobilization, ADT, ADSW, etc.
Fail. Fail. Fail. Fail.
There are only 24 hours in a day, and family and civilian careers are my primary focus, so how do I become successful in the reserves? My civilian career wont support my taking lots of extra time to go to schools, extended DWE’s, etc. We’ve got a business to run, and they need to be able to depend on me all the time. They’re supportive of me being in the reserves, but they’ve hired me to work at their business, not use their business as a lilly pad between Navy jaunts.
Well, crap. Everyone’s going to look at my record and see a skater who is just doing the minimum to get a retirement. Why am I bothering with this reserve stuff anyway if I cant be dedicated, make a difference and do stuff that matters?
First, lets look at three approaches to the Navy Reserve. There are basically three levels of reserve commitment. The Professional, the Seasonal and the Minimal. These are directly related to your civilian job and the aspirations you have in both your civilian and military careers.
The Professional: There are people out there that I call “Professional Reservists.” This is a great way to approach a reserve career almost like a government contractor. If you work for a large defense company such as BAE, BOOZ, L3, Lockheed, etc. You can park your civilian career here, and then mobilize or do ADSW essentially as many times as you want. These huge organizations have enough people to continue operations while you go off and play Navy. Consequently, you also can more intensely focus on hitting the specialized wickets in your Naval career such as command, schools, etc. You open yourself up to the best probability of advancement by doing lots of Navy stuff as a reservist as long as you do it well. You’ll be seen as a team player and a company guy.
This however is not my situation.
The Seasonalist: These are the civilian occupations which have a natural ebb and flow to their work cycle. Farmers have a large part of winter off after harvest. Teachers and professors have a large chunk of time for summer. Paving construction crews and landscapers have a slow season in the winter, etc. These types of professions have a giant blank space where people can take a 90 day set of orders and not miss too much. You get more credit for doing more Navy stuff, but you cant dedicate ALL the time to it.
Again, not me
The Minimalist: As a minimalist, I love the Navy and being part of the military. If we go to war, I want to play a part and do something important. However, I’ve got a civilian career that I work 60-80hrs a week, every week. People like me fall into the category of small business owners, family business owners, sales reps working on commission, real estate brokers, etc. We like being part of the team, but we can only dedicate the minimum requirement. If all hell breaks loose, we want the call. We feel strongly about defending our country against threats to our way of life, but short of that we just don’t have a lot of extra time.
So, then what? Are the Minimalists just playing with a huge disadvantage?
Lets call a spade a spade. Yes, we are. But…
There are strategies that you can employ to improve your odds.
I had the privilege of supporting a senior officer promotion board, and I got to see how the sausage was made. What does it take to promote to the senior ranks of the Navy as a reservist?The short answer is that it takes sustained superior performance and leadership.
This applies both in the reserves and out .
Much to my surprise, I had a 1-v-1 mentoring session with the O-8 board president, who also happened to be the founder, CEO and Chairman of his own $100M private business. He gave me two pieces of advice.
The first was to always apply for and take command billets whenever available. Sustained superior leadership trumps all. Even if you’re just a Minimalist, as the CO of a reserve unit you’re able demonstrate leadership in the space that you can dedicate to Navy work.
The second was how he accounted for all the empty space when stacked up against the Professionals and Seasonals at promotion boards. He added his civilian experience to his FITREPs and letters to the board. SPOILER ALERT: Nothing guarantees a promotion to flag rank. However by telling the board about his executive experience, the board decided he was capable of being a Commander, and then a Captain in the Navy. He gave them the ammo to vote in his favor.
He said there were years that he did not even do his Annual Training. He simply didn’t have time. He also said that no one was more surprised to select for flag than he was. As an O-6 nearing 30 years, he figured he was done. He began winding it down, and out of nowhere, he was selected. He had just made sure the i’s were dotted and t’s were crossed along the way.
Also, I had the benefit of doing my successive Annual Training back at BUPERS and saw lots of the senior officers whom I knew while on active duty. They are now retirees in their GS jobs sharing cubicles with young O-3’s and O-4’s.
This provided a lot of perspective for me with regard to the Navy and my civilian career in general.
Its easy to get your identity tangled up in what your career is and what you do for a living, but it is so much more than that.
No matter what, it all ends at some point. Whether you do 30+ years in the Navy or 40 years as a towboater on the Western rivers, your career will end.
The warning that I took was that while my career may end, my family and community would still be there around me. Take care of your family first and your career second. You never get back the time that you miss with young spouses before kids or your children while they’re young.
While it is very important to perform well in your civilian and Naval careers, there’s a slippery slope into workaholism. Don’t get your identity confused with what you do for a living.
Remember, you only get to make one pass at this life.