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Types of Military Service

The following is a list of types of Military Service to help you better understand the difference between them:

Full-Time Military Service

Active-duty service is full-time military service. This is generally what most people think of when someone indicates that they were in the military. Active-duty service members are subject to duty 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, except when on leave (vacation) or pass (authorized time off). Active-duty service members serve in the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, all branches of the military falling under the direction of the U.S. Department of Defense.

When it comes to qualifying for veteran’s benefits, Active-duty service counts toward length-of-service requirements.

Weekend Military Service

Members of the Reserves and National Guard typically perform duty one weekend per month, plus two weeks of training per year. The average National Guard or Reserve enlistment contract is six years. A Reserve or Guard member may expect to spend two years of their enlistment period performing full-time active duty.

Reserves

Each of the military services has a Reserve branch. There’s an Army Reserve, Air Force Reserve, Navy Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, and Coast Guard Reserve. Like the active-duty forces, the Reserves fall under the auspices of the Department of Defense, meaning that they are federal agencies. The primary purpose of the Reserves is to provide additional support and manpower to the active-duty forces in times of need.

When a person joins the Reserves, they first attend basic training and military job school full time. This is called active duty for training, or ADT, and doesn’t count as active-duty time for most veteran’s benefits.

Upon completion of basic training and military job school, reservists return to their home, resume their civilian lives and jobs, but train (drill) with their unit one weekend per month. Once per year, they receive 14 days of full-time training. The weekend drills are called inactive duty training (IDT), and the annual training falls into the category of ADT. Neither IDT nor ADT counts toward service requirements for veteran’s benefits.

The President and Secretary of Defense have the authority to recall reservists to active duty at any time to support military missions. In fact, at any given time, about 65,000 reservists are performing active duty in support of military contingency operations. Active duty of this type does count toward veterans benefit service requirements.

National Guard

There are only two National Guard services: the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard. The Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard do not currently have National Guard branches.

The main difference between the National Guard and the Reserves is that the Reserves belong to the federal government, while the National Guard units belong (primarily) to individual states.

Like reservists, National Guard members attend basic training and military job school full time under ADT (active duty for training). They then return to their homes, where they drill with their units one weekend per month (inactive duty training [IDT]), plus 15 full-time training days per year. As with Reserve duty, this ADT/IDT time does not count toward veterans benefit service requirements.

The governors of individual states have the authority to call National Guard members to active duty in response to state emergencies, such as disaster relief or protection of property and people. Usually this happens when such events are beyond the scope of local law enforcement agencies. This is officially known as a “Title 38 Call-Up,” and is commonly referred to as state duty. State duty does not count toward veterans benefit service requirements.

The President or Secretary of Defense may also call National Guard members to active duty in support of military contingency operations. This is called “Title 10 Call-Up,” or federal duty. This type of duty does count toward service requirements for veteran’s benefits. During any given month, about 40,000 members of the Air and Army National Guard are performing federal duty.

Active Guard/Reserves

Some members of the Reserves and National Guard perform full-time active duty, just like active-duty members. This program is called the Active Guard/Reserves, or AGR. AGR members provide day-to-day operational support needed to ensure that National Guard and Reserve units are ready to mobilize when needed. For veterans benefit service requirements, AGR duty is the same as full-time active-duty service, which means that AGR service counts toward length-of-service requirements.

Individual Ready Reserve

When a person signs an enlistment contract, they obligate themselves to the military for a total of eight years. Whatever time isn’t spent on active duty or in the Guard/Reserves must be spent in the inactive reserves, officially known as the Individual Ready Reserves (IRR). Time in the IRR does not count toward veteran’s benefit service requirements, but if you’re recalled to active duty, that time does count. An average of about 15,000 IRR members have been recalled to active duty each and every year since 2004, the vast majority by the Army and Marine Corps.

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