Active or Reserve Duty in the Navy


So you want to serve in the Navy? There are many routes one can take to get there. Becoming an active duty sailor is one way, and becoming a reservist is another. How does one decide which is right for his/her life and career path?

My husband is currently on active duty. The ways in which an active duty lifestyle has enriched our lives is beyond my wildest dreams. We’ve lived in some great places, met wonderful people, and enjoyed new adventures in each place we’ve landed. I am grateful my children have had the opportunities they’ve had to meet people from different cultural backgrounds, to see sights many people only read about, and to learn resiliency at an early age. Active duty is not for the faint of heart, but it provides us with a lifestyle we enjoy.

What is the difference between reserve and active duty?

Active duty in the Navy

Being an active duty sailor means that the US Navy is your job- your day job, your night job, your ‘real’ job. The Navy is the overseer of your household and livelihood. It dictates where you will go when you will go there, and how long you will stay there. This place the Navy sends you is called a duty station.

Being stationed in the Navy

The time spent at each duty station is mostly dependent upon a sailor’s job, however, most duty station assignments last between 2 and 3 years.

Though duty station assignments only last a few years, the opportunity to stay in one area of the country is often an option as there are a few places known as fleet concentration areas, meaning there are a lot of naval bases in one area.

San Diego, California and the Hampton Roads area of Virginia are two such fleet concentration areas. Though a sailor can move duty stations, he/she may not have to move houses, because his/her new job is at a base just a few miles from his/her last one. 

Navy Benefits

Being on active duty also comes with benefits such as medical care for sailors and their families. Education is also supported through various programs including the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

Sea duty and shore duty

Active duty sailors rotate between sea duty and shore duty. Their time on sea duty most often involves a deployment and the work up cycles that come along with it.

Deployments can vary in length depending on job description and mission goals. Workups precede a deployment and also vary in length depending upon which tactical training is being tested during that particular work up.

During the last sea deployment and workup cycle my family went through, individual workups lasted anywhere from a few days to 6 six weeks and the deployment was 7 months long.

These stints away from home before a deployment and the deployment itself make sea duty often more strenuous and hectic for both the sailor and his/her family.

For many sailors, shore duty is a reprieve from the hectic schedule that comes along with sea duty. Shore duty is often the time when sailors work more traditional hours and have more downtime to be in community with family and friends.

What it means to be in the Navy Reserve

Being a reserve sailor has many of the same benefits as being an active duty sailor and also provides the sailor with the flexibility to continue a civilian job and lifestyle.

The biggest difference between the two is the sailor’s level of participation. 

Navy Reserve Requirements

An active duty service member is obligated to fulfill a commitment to the Navy to its full extent. This length of time is determined when a sailor initially enlists or becomes an officer. The sailor will fulfill the commitment until he/she decides to separate from active duty service. Whereas the Reserves Component has a minimum required participation of 1 weekend a month and 2 weeks a year. 

So what does that mean?  The Navy Reserves is flexible for you to maintain another job, further a career, or go back to school.  In most sailors’ lives, they have the opportunity to maintain a full-time civilian job and have a part-time job with the reserves.  While it is not easy juggling two jobs it is available to the person who wants to remain connected to his/her current career and pursue a commitment to being of service in the Armed Forces. By choosing to be a reservist one can enjoy both worlds and keep life exciting.

Navy Reserve Mobilization

As a reservist, you can be mobilized or brought into active duty service. Often mobilization is due to a need for more sailors to deploy to fulfill a specific mission.

One can be mobilized both voluntarily and involuntarily. During this mobilization period, a sailor is on active duty for a certain amount of time to support the operational needs of the fleet. Once the time of activation/mobilization comes to an end a sailor returns to reserve status and resumes his/her regular reserves commitment of 1 weekend per month and 2 weeks per year.

Many civilian jobs are protected by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), a federal law that enables a sailor to be placed on military leave from his/her civilian job while in fulfilling the mobilized status requirements for the Navy.

Becoming a sailor in the United States Navy can be both exciting and overwhelming. Deciding what status, either active duty or reserve service lies with the sailor and what attributes of either type of service are most important to his/her lifestyle.

Either way, volunteering to serve in the United States Navy is not to be taken lightly; each sailor plays an integral part in the big Navy picture. 

Learn more about Navy boot camp at Great Lakes Recruiting Command, where every enlisted Sailor (regardless of active duty or reserve) will begin their journey.

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