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I heard this phrase a lot while on active duty: "Nasty reservists!" Even in boot camp, when the drill instructors discovered someone was going into the reserves instead of to an active-duty unit after graduation, they would give them a little extra boot camp-style misery as a reward. Despite the reputation reserve Marines have in the minds of the illustrious active-duty Marines, I had planned to join a local reserve unit once I decided that my break from the military had been long enough, and I did.
My first experience with the reserve side of the Marine Corps was not with actual reserve Marines but with the active-duty Inspector/Instructor (I&I) staff. Reserve Marines may show up for drill only two days a month, but the reserve units are open for business every day just like active-duty units; the ones who keep it up and running are regular active-duty Marines.
I needed to make up some drill time since I joined the unit late in the year, so I went up to the drill center and worked with them for four days. I was looking forward to seeing what it was like because I&I Marines may be active-duty but they possess a similar reputation to the "nasty reservists." Since they are isolated from the rest of the Marine Corps, other active duty Marines like to poke fun at them for becoming lazy or for having a comparatively easy, spoiled life.
The first thing I noticed was that compared to my three years on Marine Security Guard duty, life in the reserve world seemed almost painfully slow-paced. I was used to a single 30-minute break for food, struggling to get a full night's sleep and a never-ending pile of work. I'd completely forgotten that people in many regular units take an hour or two for lunch and then leave work at 1630!
Once my first official drill weekend rolled around, however, the pace picked up considerably. There is so much that needs to be done, and we usually have only two days to do it per month. Even on weekends when we don't have much training to do, there is still an endless stream of paperwork that needs to be completed. Once the weekend is over, everyone shifts to email and the task lists continue to grow.
The biggest difference I've noticed so far between the reserve and active-duty sides of the Marine Corps is that on the reserve side, it's up to the individual Marine to be a good Marine more so than on the active duty side. I saw more Physical and Combat Fitness Test failures on the reserve side than I ever did while on active duty, and I was surprised at first, thinking I was seeing first-hand evidence of the "nasty reservists." But then I realized that for every failure there were 20 or 30 Marines who did just fine. And they did just fine even though no one was forcing them to exercise three times a week and banging on their door if they did not show up for the morning run.
In the reserves, no one is keeping an eye on you every single day to make sure you show up to work, exercise regularly, or finish required correspondence courses you need to get promoted. Reserve Marines have no choice but to be self-motivated on a day-to-day basis, because there no squad leaders or a platoon sergeants checking up on them morning, noon, and night.
My reserve PFCs and Lance Cpls do what they need to do to be good Marines without me telling them to do it or being there to make sure they follow through. You could pick them up and plant them randomly in active-duty units and without knowing they were reservists, no one would be able to tell the difference.
Marine reservist, blogger, college student