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Active Duty Vs Reserves (Full Guide 2023 Edition)

Written by Everett Bledsoe / Fact checked by Brain Bartell

active duty vs reserve

When you enlist, you can be in the active duty military or the Reserve or National Guard. In the former, you will be a full-time service member, while you will only be serving part-time in the latter. But there is more to know about the difference between active duty and reserves, particularly if you are deciding on which to be in. This article on active duty vs reserves will provide you with detailed coverage. So, make sure you read all the way until the end.

What Is the Active Duty Military?


The active duty military is made up of people who serve full time. There is an active-duty component for all of the service branches in the Armed Forces: the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard.

After completing full-time service, an active duty service member will return to civilian life. Usually, the commitment time is 4 years. The range, though, is 2 to 6, with variations as a result of the unit and mission.

As such, active duty service members live on base or in military housing. The exact living arrangement is based on a few different factors; for example, the military member’s unit, military occupational specialty (MOS), and deployment status.

1. Deployment

Service members in the active duty military can be deployed anywhere (domestically or internationally) at any time. The deployment duration varies with the needs of the military, in general, and the service branch, in particular. But typically, cycles are 6, 9, or 12 months.

2. Pay

The pay an active duty service member receives is based on his or her rank and service time. Whether he or she is a commissioned officer, a warrant officer, or an enlisted member also matters.

In 2021, the minimum active duty rate was $1,650.30 and the maximum was $16,608.30.

Download a copy of this PDF to look at the detailed rate breakdown:

What Are the Reserves?


The Reserve is a component of every military service branch. So, there is an Army Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, Navy Reserve, Air Force Reserve, and Coast Guard Reserve. And all of the reserves are under the command of their respective service branch.

The Reserve provides and maintains qualified and trained units for active duty when necessary. For example, when there is war, a national emergency, or threats to national security.

1. Types

There are two levels of categories. First, a member can be in the Ready Reserve, the Standby Reserve, or the Retired Reserve.

There is the Inactive National Guard, Individual Ready Reserve, and Selected Reserve within the Ready Reserve.

  • Inactive National Guard

This is only available in the Army National Guard. If you part from a drilling unit before your enlistment ends, you will be here, unless you asked to be in the Individual Ready Reserve.

In the Inactive National Guard, you cannot earn pay and retirement points, nor can you participate in annual training or rank up.

You are required to be with your last unit once a year, and can be recalled to serve if there is a need for a full-scale mobilization.

  • Individual Ready Reserve

You may be here, while waiting for basic training, if you entered through a delayed entry program or if your enlistment ran out after four years but need to finish your total service commitment.

Unlike the Inactive National Guard status, you can earn retirement points, take part in annual training, and be promoted.

But you are not affiliated with a drilling unit. It is up to you to finish any required courses for drill points and seek a command that can send you to annual training for retirement points.

  • Selected Reserve

Within the Selected Reserve is Active Guard and Reserve (AGR). If you are in the AGR, you serve on active duty in training or administrative roles to make sure units continue to function on a day-to-day basis.

Now that you know the active reserve vs inactive reserve difference, let’s look at the deployment aspect.

2. Deployment

Those in the Reserves are available to be called upon to serve. They may be deployed within the country or overseas.

A lot of the time, Reserve service members fill stateside service positions that are left vacant because the active duty forces are overseas.

3. Training


Reserve service members must partake in training drills one weekend every month and two weeks every year.

4. Status

In the past, Reservists were only entitled to Veteran status if they served at least 180 days of active duty on federal orders. But as of 2016, as long as a Reservist honorably serves for at least 20 years, he or she is a Veteran.

5. Pay


Reservist pay can also be referred to as “drill pay.” The pay rates depend on the rank and service time of a member and whether the member is commissioned officer, an enlisted officer, or a warrant officer.

In 2021, the drill pay range was $55.01 to $16,608.30.

If you want to take a look at the detailed drill pay chart breakdown, check out this link:

What is the National Guard?

The National Guard is composed of the Army National Guard and Air Force National Guard. As a whole, it is organized and controlled by the state.

1. Deployment

However, when there is war, the National Guard can be federalized so those in the National Guard can be deployed. When they are deployed, they may have to commit to extended preparation drills.

Other than that, in local emergencies, the National Guard units are tasked to provide assistance to all the communities endangered. Here, emergencies can be fires, storms, floods, or other disasters.

Some companies may be deployed overseas. In this case, they can see combat. More commonly, however, they help construct facilities like schools and hospitals, provide training to peacekeepers, and teach local farmers to be more efficient.

2. Training

Similar to the Reserves, the National Guard requires service members to take part in drills one weekend a month and two weeks a year.

3. Status

National Guard service members will attain Veteran status if they have been in service in a war zone for 30 consecutive days.

4. Pay

Members of the National Guard also have drill pay. They share the same pay rates as Reservists. So, how much they receive also varies based on rank, service time, and position. In 2021, the pay range for those in the National Guard was between $55.01 and $16,608.30, too. 

5. Retirement Pay


Qualifying military members in the Reserves or National Guard are entitled to receive retirement pay at age 60.

The criterion to qualify are as follows:

  • Have at least 20 years of qualifying service
    • A qualifying year is one with a minimum of 50 retirement points
  • Have completed eight years of qualifying service
    • 6 years if your service was between 5 October 1994 and 30 September 2001
  • Not entitled to retirement pay from an armed force
  • Have applied for retired pay at the time of your discharge or transfer to the Retired Reserve

Active Duty Vs. Reserves – Pros and Cons

1. Active Duty Military


  • Active-duty service members are entitled to full medical benefits and unlimited access to post exchange and commissary access. In addition, they can retire with full benefits after serving for 20 years.
  • Members can accrue 2.5 leave days a month or 30 days a year.
  • Liberty is when members are “off from work,” like weekends and holidays.
    • It is available for 24, 48, 72, or 96 hours but is accompanied by distance restrictions. The longer the liberty period, the farther members can go from their duty stations.

Reserve members are not subject to these unless they are called into active-duty service.

2. Reserves & National Guard

  • Your duty station can be anywhere (inside or outside of the U.S). It depends on your unit and missions. But this is not the case for those in the Reserves. Reservists will be stationed close to their home.
  • Reservists cannot receive full medical benefits unless they are called for active-duty service. They do not have unlimited access to post exchanges and commissary visits are capped at 24 per year. Upon retiring after 20 years, they are only eligible for modified retirement benefits.

Active Duty vs. Reserves – Similarities


1. Entry Requirements

Regardless of whether you are joining as an active duty member, Reservist, or National Guard member, you must meet the basic military entry requirements, which are:

  • Be a U.S citizen with a valid passport
  • Be between 17 and 35 years old
  • Possess a high school diploma
  • Have fewer than two dependents
  • Pass the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery)
    • Army: Minimum score is 31
    • Marine Corps: Minimum score is 32
    • Navy: Minimum score is 35
    • Air Force: Minimum score is 36
    • Coast Guard: Minimum score is 40
  • Pass the Military Entrance Processing Station

2. Service Commitment


Regardless of whether you are in the active duty military, Reserves, or National Guard, you must commit to a minimum of eight service years. However, you have the option to choose your service mode: in active duty, Reserves, Individual Ready Reserves, etc.

3. Basic Training

Basic training is mandatory no matter if you decide to be in the active-duty military, Reserve, or National Guard. Basic training is about:

  • Army: 10 weeks
  • Marine Corps: 13 weeks
  • Navy: 8 weeks
  • Air Force: 8 weeks
  • Coast Guard: 8 weeks

4. Jobs & MOSs

Members of the active-duty military, Reserve, or National Guard all have a specialization, although the names and nature can differ across the service branches. This means Reserves work in a specific job just like those in active duty.

  • Army: Over 200 MOSs
  • Marine Corps: Over 300 MOSs
  • Navy: Over 150 MOSs
  • Air Force: Over 200 MOSs
  • Coast Guard: Over 200 MOSs


Now that you have reached the conclusion of our article on active duty vs reserve, you should be able to answer questions, like do Army reserves get deployed and make detailed comparisons for Army reserve vs active duty, enlisted vs reserves, and active duty vs national guard. Why don’t you try them? Then, you can share the answers with us (and other readers) in the comments!

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