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What's the difference between us and them?

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jennie Chamberlin
  • 624th Regional Support Group
Just after the start of the new year in 2003, I went to Air Force Basic Training. Six weeks later, that memorable experience was followed by technical school. During those two periods, there was no distinction between me and every other Airman in my flight. I did my morning cleaning details with relish and sang jodies during formation runs with the best of them.

Suddenly, six months later, I was thrust back into my normal life. No uniform everyday, no curfew every night. But I was forever changed. I am a reservist, a servicemember on the edge of living a civilian life.

It may seem easier to an outsider. I can live where I please, and come and go as I like. I can hold a civilian job or go to school full-time. I only have duty one weekend a month and two weeks a year. Yet there are a few things about a traditional reservist's life that not many people realize.

1. Nobody knows what you do.

Now most members of the Air Force have encountered the "Do you fly planes?" question. If the Air Force outside of flying planes is a mystery, then the Air Force Reserve is the ultimate unsolved mystery to most. When I tell people I'm a reservist, they typically say "Oh." After a moment's pause they'll say, "So you're in the military? But I thought you were a journalist?" Even your active duty counterparts don't understand what you do, or sometimes don't know you exist. You're dubbed a weekend warrior, but no one really knows what that means. At least we reservists don't. I feel like a warrior all the time.

2. You work straight through.

One week, one weekend, and then into the next. There might be some traveling in between, but it's pretty grueling. For some reservists, it's a complete shift of gears - a school teacher during the week, a mechanic on the weekend. For others, it's the same job in a different capacity. Either way, we don't kick back on those Reserve weekends. We work, and hard. We train and we perform, we meet and we plan. And we do a month's worth of work in one weekend.

3. You might eventually have to drop everything.

And go off to a deployment. You won't have that much notice, and that other life will have to be wrapped up in a nice little package fairly quickly. This might include leaving behind a business, a civilian job, or a family to be cared for. It's true that you know this starting out, but it doesn't make it any easier when it comes time to do it.

4. We do it because we love it.

Difficult sometimes? Yes, it's a little rough to travel to a base that may or may not be somewhere nearby after a long week of work. It may be close to exhausting to work through those weekends which are packed with a whirlwind of military activity while your family goes to the beach. But when I look back at my short career, I feel that every bit of work and sweat has paid itself off. It pays in the opportunities the see the country and the world. It pays in the unique and fulfilling professional achievements that you encounter as a reservist. But most importantly to me, it pays in the friends you make. The Air Force Reserve attracts all kinds of people from all walks of life. No where else will you find such a diverse group of people to work and bond with. As a reservist, I've worked with some of the most wonderful, most hard-working, and funniest people I've ever met. You have to have a sense of humor to do what we do.

So what the difference between us and active duty Airman? It's our balancing act. Reservists typically have to juggle three lives - work, military, and family. But that's where the differences end. We have the same core values, the same dedication to our mission, the same amazing co-workers and the same pride in serving in the United States Air Force.