A Perspective on Managing Work Life Balance

I’m so glad I didn’t join the Army, we’d do this all the time.

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?

Fail again.

Why does this look like a Che Guevara T-Shirt? Sailors for the Revolution?

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 .

 So easy, even HR can understand it.

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.

Pure, Unbridled, SWOTIVATION. Your day is now complete.

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.

SWO Reserve Component Community Issues: Accessions

The Issue:
In 2015, the Surface Reserve Component (SRC) leadership projects that we will have a looming gap in our O-4 to O-6 billets.  A PERS-3 model indicates that the SRC will be operating at 76% capacity at the LCDR level, 74% capacity at the CDR level and 59% at the CAPT level.  

Senior Officer Collar devices: AKA things that probably wont ever be on my uniform.
There is a 1998 Proceedings article titled “Listen to the JO’s: Why Retention is a Problem” that has received a surge in recirculation recently because it rings sadly true today.  Like it or not, the fate of the SRC is tied to the health and well being of the Surface AC.  These reasons of frustration and disillusionment highlight why many of our AC counterparts are leaving the military altogether and not giving the RC a shot.  
As most of us know, the AC SWO community does not talk about the RC because of a combination of honest ignorance and the fact that no CO Afloat wants to be known for encouraging his JO’s to “leave” the community.  There’s no professional incentive for them to pursue it.  There are too many other fires to put out. In short, these issues are part of the underlying current as to why the SRC is having issues filling its OPA.
Sidebar comment: 
I know what you’re thinking about the numbers discussed above.
 “If there’s fewer of us in the pool and the requirement stays the same, then I’m a shoo-in to promote!”  
Yes, statistically there is a higher probability of promotion, but just because the numbers work in your favor to promote doesn’t guarantee that it will be automatic.  There’s still room for you to fail gloriously if you don’t take it seriously.  How would you like to be the JO that couldn’t get promoted with these kind of statistics in your favor? Yeah, me neither.
So What:
A little preparation now can position you well to take advantage of the current conditions as well prepare you for a shift in future manning requirements or the civilian job market.  Be proactive. Comb through your record and make sure all your FITREPS, pictures, AQD’s, etc. are included and that any irregularities that are accounted for with letters of explanation.  
Take your records to a senior officer and ask them to review it.  See what could be improved or what needs some damage control.  Simple things like a master’s degree gotten while a civilian fall into the category of nice-to-have’s when your record is stacked against the rest.   Ultimately, you might be surprised what you find out about records management.  
This experience will also be invaluable as you help the new arrivals coming in behind you.  In the end, you want to leave yourself the maximum number of opportunities available to take advantage of. Market conditions change in the civilian world and what starts as a bright private sector career can turn around quickly.  
Don’t neglect simple disciplines as a reservist that can cause future obstacles.

The question remains for the group: How do we recruit more SWOs from the Active Component to the Surface Reserve Component? What are your thoughts?

How does your VA compensation interact with your Navy Reserve paycheck?

How does your paycheck as a Navy Reservist interact with your Veteran’s Administration disability compensation?

I got asked this question at the NOSC one sunny weekend.

Anyone else see a person on his knees with his head in the ground?

MILPERSMAN 7220-380 states that members may elect to receive either the payments for current military pay or the entitlements for past military service.

Service Members cannot double dip. Personnel at my NOSC were under the impression that this meant a member had to choose between BEING a reservist or accepting VA disability compensation. This is not quite true.  There is nothing in instructions from either the Veteran’s Administration or the Navy that says you cannot be both a reservist and receive compensation from your disability award.

Still, you cannot double dip. What this means is that the navy payment and VA compensation are broken down to a more granular level from the big monthly checks. The VA instruction (M21-1MR, Part III, Subpart v, Chapter 4 Section C) says this done on a prorated, per diem basis at the end of the year.  Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC) figures out how many paid days the Service Member drilled/active duty (drill days are 4hr periods = 1 day ergo 1 Saturday of drill = 2 drill days ergo 1 drill wknd = 4 paid days). DMDC then coordinates with Hines Information Technology Center which ID’s reservists who received both VA disability comp and drilling reserve pay. 

Hines ITC then sends a letter to the Service Member to elect to choose to keep either their VA disability compensation or the reserve pay for the tallied number of days.  (For example, lets assume 48 drill days and 15 days of active duty training for a total of 63 days). The Service Member then returns the letter indicating whether they want to foreit the VA disability compensation or the Navy reserve pay.  They can also challenge the number of days of active duty if they see a discrepancy. 

At the New Year, the VA resolves the accounting by withholding the 63 days of the Service Member’s VA benefits until the account has settled and back to zero.  Members can preempt this large withholding by notifying the VA of the times that they will be drilling or on Annual Training and having the money withheld in small pieces each month. 

As an example:  An O-3 with a high disability rating was cleared by the Navy Reserve to transition from Active Duty to Reserve Duty as a drilling reservist.  His pay per day as a LT for those 63 days is much higher than his VA disability benefit, so he would elect to have them withhold 63 days of disability comp until it has settled up. 

PFA Cycle – Thoughts to Consider

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                Once again, the PFA is upon all of us.  Twice a year our physical fitness is tested using a series of exercises, body composition analysis and even a physical health assessment.  For some, they dust off their sneakers and workout gear twice a year and for others, the PFA is just another day in the gym.  Regardless of whether or not you are the twice-a-year guy or an everyday type, the PFA is critically important to your career and ultimately, your health.
                In an effort to support a healthy lifestyle and an overall culture of fitness, the Navy continues to refine its message regarding alcohol, tobacco and exercise.  This is one of the many reasons that we see “dry” Navy events, such as unit gatherings, as well as an increasing amount of “healthy choices” on menus.  Ultimately, the reality is that we need to “Be Ready” as citizen Sailors and we will have a harder time doing just that if we are out of shape and/or over weight.
                Here are a few things that have helped me over the years.  First, maintain perspective.  Fitness is not a sprint, it is a marathon.  Make it an everyday habit by building balance into your diet, take the stairs instead of the elevator and watch your portions.  For me, portion size was the biggest challenge.  Remember, as we get older, our metabolisms don’t run as high as when we were teenagers.  We can’t eat like our teen-selves.
                Follow the simple rule of balance.  If you burn more calories than you bring in, you will lose weight.  If you take in more than you burn, well, the opposite is true.  Yes, it’s that easy.  There are many programs, systems and or devices that can help you track calories going out and coming in and if it helps, get one and use it.  Many of our smart phones have applications that can facilitate tracking and since they are nearly always with us, we have easy access to their use.
                Bottom line, find something that works for you and use it.  Consistency is key.  Honor the commitment you make to yourself and don’t quit.  Remember, you wouldn’t miss a meeting with your boss – so, since you are the boss of your own health, don’t miss that meeting.

Enlisted Eval Writing: Load for Bear

 Here’s how the world works when it comes to writing an eval: you either get the eval you write, or you get the eval you deserve.
Ok, not really, but if you turn garbage in to your Chief, DIVO or DH, then you throw yourself at the mercy of the system to recognize your awesomeness and recommend you for promotion. 
I hate to break it to you, but sometimes your leadership can’t see the Superman through your Clark Kent disguise.  Help them out a little, after all they’re officers and have to be helped along a little.
The other side of this is that the language matters more than you may realize.  Simply cataloging your accomplishments misses the mark.  This is where reporting seniors communicate to the board if you’re a good candidate for anchors or just a good technician.  Silence on key topics speaks volumes. 
You want to make sure you check the leadership box as well as the technical expertise box.  Getting an eval that says you’re a “good technican” is a polite way of saying “sailor meets all basic requirements for being a PO2.” So, you either choose your language for the eval writer or you let them choose it for you.  Now they can still change whatever you send it, but since they’ve got 20+ to write and review a well written submission will have fewer changes than FC2 Dirtbag’s submission on a wadded up Kleenex.  Here’s a few quick and dirty principles to help you up your game.
Write a rough draft
Be concise and use a bullet style
Don’t use flowery language (raises the BS flag)
Let numbers speak instead of words.  Performance talks, extra verbiage walks.
Write clearly so even an Admiral could understand it. (Don’t draw cartoons, you’ll use up too many lines)
Responsibilites/Customers served
Leadership specifics
Specific accomplishments for command/Navy and personnel supervised
Retention efforts and results
Quals achieved during reporting period
Education completed and diplomas
Personal awards received
Civic activities
*Reservists: Civilian Work and accomplishments
Opening Statement: Have a lead in statement:
My #1 of XX Petty Officers
My #1MP, restricted by EP quota
Meat in the Middle:
Use bullets to show performance: Outstanding Leader:
N8 LPO executed 15 joint exercises flawlessly leading 20 junior personnel. Oversaw the reenlistment of 4 sailors.
AEGIS SME: Corrected 35 system casualties in an average of 4 hours.  Provided tech assist to 2 other DDG’s in AOR with same issue. Awarded NAM for superior trouble shooting performance on deployment.
Closing Statement:
My highest Recommendation for Chief Petty Officer. Select for the most Challenging Assignment.
Also, if you can, have someone who has sat a board review the eval and get their cut.

Remember, no amount of wordsmithing will make a poor performer into a prince, so you’ve got to sustain superior performance throughout the year.  

The Forgotten Mission of the Navy Reserve:

            For those that have served before and returned to the Reserves, you have heard this message: “You are an ambassador, you represent the Navy everywhere you go.”  This long held belief, that as military members we represent something greater than ourselves, is an understated, but incredibly important, aspect of the Reserve Sailor. 


As a Citizen Sailor, we serve in our communities.  Many of these communities would not be considered traditional Navy towns, as they are not near a major port, fleet concentration area, or, in some cases, even near a major body of water.  It is in those communities that the Navy Operational Support Center and the Reserve Sailor become the single most important recruiting “tool” that the Navy possesses.  Without the NOSC or Reserve Sailor, these communities may never be directly exposed to the Navy. 

            So, as we take part in our drill weekends in communities all over the United States, understand that we may be the only Navy that these citizens experience.  In many ways, we are the Navy they know and understand.  Consequently, we must be mindful of how we present ourselves in the local community.  Embracing our identity as Citizen Sailors means that we wear two hats at all times.

            When this mission is executed well, it becomes a seamless part of how the NOSC and its population interacts with the community while meeting the demands of its primary mission.  However, poor execution of this “forgotten” message can lead toward a distant local population that would like nothing more than for the NOSC to go away.  Once gone, it may be a resource that is lost forever.

            Bottom line, be sure to embrace your role as a steward of the Navy’s image across the country.  In so doing, the Reserves may certainly be able to look forward to another 100 plus years.

Quick and Dirty: Joint Qualified Officer

What is JQO and why do you care?  Joint Qualified Officers are the becoming the requirement to continue to progress into senior leadership in the United States Navy. JQO certification is the process by which an officer develops familiarity and integration with other branches of the United States Armed Forces. 

The Reserves has roughly 300 billets on the joint duty assignment list (JDAL). There are two types of joint duty: standard (S-JDA) and experience based (E-JDA).  You must serve in a JDA billet for 2 years to accrue any credit towards qualification.  Tours failing to meet the two year minimum may be accredited with the E-JDA process.  More information is available on the PERS webpage.

Level II JQO
    • JPME I
    • Minimum of 12 points must come from joint experience
    • 6 points joint training exercises or other education
    • OR Full Joint Tour and JPME Phase Id


    • JPME II or AJPME
    • 36 points of joint credit
    • Certificate by the SECDEF
      • Minimum of 24 points must come from joint experience
      • Max of 12 points come from training, exercises and other education
      • Formal Designatino as JQO
      • JQO is required for appointment to O-7

S-JDA Process

  1. Selected for Joint Assignment in Apply
  2. Member submits documents for each year points for certification.
  3. After assignment, member verifies the points.

AQD Codes:
JS1: Full JOME
JS2: Full Joint Tour Credit
JS4: Joint Qual II
JS5: Joint Qual III/JQO
JSA: AJPME Graduate

Quick Answer: What Does It Mean to Be Cross Assigned?

The short answer is you are drilling at one NOSC (generally the one closest to home) while holding a billet with another unit at another NOSC. For those Reservists outside of Fleet Concentration Areas, this will be fairly common. Keep in mind, there are a few things to consider. For the sake of clarity, we’ll establish two terms. First, the home unit which is where your fitrep comes from.  From your home unit, you are cross assigned to a unit at a local NOSC.  This unit could be the NOSC Operations support, or it could be any other unit which has billet space for someone of your paygrade.  
  • If you are Cross-assigned, you should do your best to contact/stay in contact with your unit. 
  • You should drill at your home unit once per quarter (that unit CO should be signing your Fitrep). 
  • Your administrative records could be at one NOSC while your operational/training records are at another.
There is some heavy debate over whether this is good or bad for your career.  Deep down in places that the organization does like to talk about, there is a difference.  For example if LT “A” and his doppelganger LT “B” are assigned to a local unit, LT “A” shows up every drill weekend, has his act together and gets alot accomplished.  So does LT B except he’s cross assigned to that unit from across the country.  LT “A” will make a much bigger and longer lasting impression than he would if he were only showing up once a quarter because of frequency and interaction opportunities.  So if you pair LT’s “A” &”B” (who is cross assigned,) the human factor gives the nod to LT “A” because of the familiarity and proximity.  

Bottom line is that if you are going to be cross assigned , you’ll have to work harder than the locals to get there and make an impression.  Find jobs that you can do remotely and other ways that you can be involved, but don’t have to be on site.  
More on this later, but this needed a quick answer to respond to some questions we’ve had.  Feel free to add your own twist to this explanation and make it better for the rest of us.  

The VA’s Answer to Accounting for Drill Days Each Month in Your Benefit Disbursement

I’ve written previously about the interface between the VA disability benefit and drill pay. As previously written, you cannot receive both drill pay and your VA benefit concurrently. (See the post “How Does Your VA Compensation Interact with Your Navy Reserve Paycheck?” for the in depth explanation.)

I heard or read somewhere that you could submit a monthly form to notify the VA that you were drilling, and they would withhold the prorated amount on a monthly basis.  This option would be attractive because under the current process, an awardee’s benefitis withheld for the entire year’s worth of training days – say 63 days (remember, each 4hr period counts as a day).  Turning any income stream off for two full months is inconvenient at best.  Smoothing it out with a monthly deduction of prorated drill days seems like a plausible rumor, so I decided to investigate. When the Google failed me on finding the correct form, I decided to go into the bear’s cave…
Unable to scare up anything on my own, I emailed the nice people at the VA and asked about it.  Naturally, in the face of a monolithic government bureaucracy being scorched on national television for poor customer service, I expected little assistance.  TO THEIR CREDIT, they responded within 5 days with a comprehensive answer to my question.  Kudos to them.  Its a point of success they can build on. Now if they can solve those other little rough spots, they’ll be in good shape. 
Unfortunately, the answer to the question was not what I had hoped.  The magical form does not exist.  According to the response, you cannot alter the disbursement on a monthly basis.  So, if you’re in this boat, you need to practice good cash management and ensure that you deduct the amount yourself and set it aside so that you retain enough to cover you through the withholding period.
This process is simple mathematically.  Take your monthly disbursement and divide by 30.  Each VA month is 30 days.  For the sake of numbers we’ll use $3000.00/30days = $100.00/day.  If you know you are drilling 1 weekend this month, then set aside 4 days worth of benefit, $400.00 into a separate account for that month.  If you do your 14 days of drill, then set aside $1400.00.
To streamline the income for the year, you can figure that you’ll probably drill for 12 weekends and 2 weeks per year.  12 x 4 = 48 + 14 = 62.  Take 62 and divide by 12 months to get a little over 5.  If you withhold 5 days per month, then you’ll come out at right around two months worth of benefit.
There is no way that I’m aware of to establish allotments within the VA, but if you have Navy Federal or USAA, this is an easy task.  Set up a checking account for the set aside and have the bank transfer the allotted amount each month immediately after the benefit arrives.  The tricky part is keeping your fingers out of it throughout the year.  

VA Response to Monthly Witholding Question

The comments below are the complete response to my question of how to submit form monthly to withold the VA benefit on a monthly basis vice an annually accumulated basis.

“Dear Mr. Knight:

This is in response to your inquiry to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) dated May 14, 2014.

For the service you have performed for our country, we are grateful. Thank you for your sacrifice.

Unfortunately, it does note quite work that way sir.

Annually, the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC) sends a VA form 21-8951, Notice of Waiver of VA Compensation or Pension to Receive Military Pay and Allowances, to reservists and guardsmen.

Waiver Requirements

Inactive duty training pay or active duty pay cannot be paid concurrently with VA benefits and a waiver must be filed annually. It is usually advantageous for the Veteran to waive disability benefits. However, the Veteran may waive drill pay in order to receive full compensation.

Reduction of VA benefits

VA does not create an overpayment on drill pay adjustments. Reduction is made prospectively (in the future) based on the rate in effect during the last day of the fiscal year the training actual took place. A fiscal year runs from October 1 through September 30.

For example, Fiscal year 2007 began October 1, 2006, and ended September 30, 2007. If training occurred during FY 2007, the rates in effect on September 30, 2007, are those on December 1, 2006.

If a Veteran was drawing a temporary 100%, the withholding is based on the permanent rate in effect at that time.

Effective date Reason Code Entitlement Code Dependents Total Award Net Award Type Withholding
06-01-2008 19 01 10/10 568.00 12.00 1 556.00
08-04-2008 19 01 10/10 568.00 568.00 0

If a service-connected Veteran, with an evaluation of 40% and a dependent spouse, completed 63 training days during FY 2007, VA would withhold the rate in effect and pay the difference to the Veteran. Our M12 screen would show as follows:

Counting of Training Time

Inactive Duty Training — On drill weekends, each four-hour training session counts as one day to be waived. So, a drill weekend would be four paydays.

Active Duty Training — For two-week summer camp, each day attended counts as one day to be waived.

In computing the number of days VA benefits must be waived, any authorized travel time for which service pay and allowances are paid is included.

Each month is considered 30 days no matter how many days are actually in the month.

Completing VA Form 21-8951

VA Form 21-8951 mailed to the Veteran will give the individual the following options:

(a) The Veteran can check a box indicating agreement with the number of drill days printed on the form and agree to waive a corresponding number of days of VA benefits, OR
(b) The Veteran can indicate that the number of drill pay days shown on the form is incorrect, enter the correct number of days, have the commanding officer or designee sign the form, and agree to waive a corresponding number of days of VA benefits, OR
(c) The Veteran can indicate that he/she received no drill pay during the fiscal years shown on the form with the commanding officer’s or designee’s signature, OR
(d) The Veteran can elect to waive drill pay in order to receive VA benefits.

Notification of VA action

Inform the Veteran that VA will send a letter informing him or her of the amount withheld and the date full compensation benefits will be restored. If the Veteran does not agree with the amount of days benefits were withheld, the Veteran may appeal the decision.

VA Form 21-8951 Is Not Returned to VA

If there is no response within 90 days from a Veteran who was sent VA Form 21-8951, then three copies of the form are generated by the computer system in Hines, IL. Two copies are sent to the Regional Office of jurisdiction and one copy is sent to Central Office.

The Regional Office will send a due process letter to the Veteran along with one copy of VA Form 21-8951. The Veteran is to complete and return the form within 65 days from the date of the letter. If the Veteran fails to respond to the due process letter, then the Regional Office will adjust the award according to regulations.

Manual Reference: M21-1MR Part III subpart v Chapter 4 Section C

Thank you for contacting us. If you have questions or need additional help with the information in our reply, please respond to this message or see our other contact information below.

Sincerely yours,

National IRIS Response Center Manager”