Air Force Reserves vs. Active Duty Air Force

Updated on June 20, 2020
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Hello! I am a stay-at-home mom to two wonderful children who keep me very busy.

Read on to learn about differences between the Air Force Reserves and Active Duty Air Force.
Read on to learn about differences between the Air Force Reserves and Active Duty Air Force. | Source

Air Force Reserves vs. Active Duty Air Force

I decided to join the military when I was a Senior in high school. I joined the Delayed Enlistment Program until I was shipped off to Basic Training. Basic Training was six weeks long.

I had testing to find out which career would be the best fit for me, then I was able to choose the career that I wanted to train for from the list of careers they decided would be best for me.

After Basic Training, I went to Tech School for six months to train for my new job. Afterwards, I was sent off to my first duty station to begin working.

When choosing to join the Air Force Reserves or Active Duty Air Force there are many things to consider. Do you want to do it full-time or part-time? What do you want to get out of it? Do you want to live in new places?

Air Force Basic Training Video

Air Force Reserves

The Air Force Reserves requires that you work 1 weekend a month and two weeks each year. You also can choose where you want to live. You usually go to work at the nearest Air Force Reserve Base to where you live.

You go through Basic Training and Technical school just like the Active Duty Members, but afterwards, you are sent back home to begin working from your Reserve base. How long will you be away for the Air Force Reserves? One weekend a month and two weeks out of the year.

In times of National Disaster or War, the time could be extended. Civilian jobs must, by law, keep your job for you to come back to if you are gone on military duty.

Valiant Shield - B2 Stealth bomber from Missouri leads ariel formation
Valiant Shield - B2 Stealth bomber from Missouri leads ariel formation | Source

Active Duty Air Force

Active Duty Air Force requires you to sign up for a 4 or 6 year term. This is your job! They tell you where you live. There is a lot of camaraderie amongst the Active Duty members.

We were all in the same situation together. We were away from our family and homes. We all became family and made a home wherever we went.

The pay was O.K. but the benefits were wonderful. If we were sick, we went to the hospital on base. We didn't have to deal with insurance as long as we went to the hospital on base.

The commissary (grocery store) had very low prices. The BX (a store like Target or Walmart) had everything we needed. Gas on base was cheap. The preschools and daycares on base were wonderful.

As an Active Duty Air Force Member, you are pretty much On Call all the time. You live where they want you to live and work the hours they want you to work.

Active Duty Air Force members have many great benefits including education, insurance, food allowances, living and expenses housing, yearly pay increases, vacation allowance, retirement benefits and savings plans.

You normally spend anywhere from 2-6 years at a base before getting relocated. I know a few people who were at the same base throughout their whole career in the Air Force.

Air Force Basic Military Training Graduation

Air Force Basic Training Graduation At Lackland Air Force Base
Air Force Basic Training Graduation At Lackland Air Force Base | Source

Choosing Between Active Duty and Reserves

Whether you choose to go Active Duty or Reserves, the main difference is the amount of time you will be putting into it.

If you would like to add a little adventure in your life, learn a new skill and make some extra money, but you do not want to completely disrupt your current life, then the Reserves is the way to go.

If you are looking for a complete change with tons of benefits, decent pay and a secure full-time job then Active Duty is the way to go.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

  • How long is a contract for the Air Force Reserves?

    Your first contract will be for 6 years. After your first contract, you can sign up for 2-6 year terms.

  • Can I continue my college studies and also join the Air Force?

    You will only be able to continue with your current college if you are Reserve or if you are Active duty and are either stationed really close to your college or if the have an online program. Active Duty Air Force and Reserve Air Force have the same college tuition programs. The perk of finishing your degree before you join Active Duty is that the Air Force will pay for your college bills and you will enter as an Officer.

  • If I'm in the Air Force Reserves, can I get my own apartment? And can I still go to a different country like South Korea?

    Yes, you can get your own apartment. Here is a link with information about traveling out of the country while serving in the Reserves:

  • Can I go to school, work, and be in the Reserves all at the same time? Also if you are in the Reserves, do you still go to Tech School?

    You will need to go to technical school after basic training to train for your job in the Air Force Reserves. You can go to school and work while signed up for the Air Force Reserves as long as it does not interfere with your required one weekend a month and two weeks a year. Here is a link with some helpful information:

  • Would it be beneficial for me to go active duty Air Force while in college ROTC?

    You could take classes on your assigned base while active duty. These will count towards your degree. If you are in ROTC during college, you may want to wait until after you finish your degree to join active duty.

© 2012 Melanie Casey


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    • profile image


      16 months ago

      “The perk of finishing your degree before you join Active Duty is that the Air Force will pay for your college bills and you will enter as an Officer.”. This is inaccurate.

      Yes, you MUST have a four year college degree to become an Officer. No, joining the Air Force with a college degree does NOT mean that “the Air Force will pay for your college bills and you will enter as an Officer. “

      I am a 22 year retired (prior enlisted) officer and have some insight. You must compete for an officer slot. Very few “college bills” will be paid by the Air Force unless you are entering a high demand, low density career field (like surgeon, etc).

    • caseymel profile imageAUTHOR

      Melanie Casey 

      2 years ago from Indiana

      From Reserve duty members receive full medical and dental benefits only if called for active duty service. Reservists are afforded unlimited access to post exchanges and may be limited to 24 commissary visits per year. Reserve members are stationed near their home for weekend and two week drill and training duties unless called into active service. Reserve duty members are able to retire after 20 years of service with modified retirement benefits.

    • profile image

      Possible recruit 

      2 years ago

      Can an enlisted reservist serve full time and receive active duty retirement benefits?

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      The first caption should be spelled "aerial", not Ariel like from Disney! lol Also, your bullet about the Reserves trailed off at "benef[its]"... Just trying to help polish your article, since the Tongue & Quill encourages professionals to communicate professionally.

    • profile image

      day H 

      2 years ago

      Thanks . Well put

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Very helpful, thanks!


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