In 2010, after Tim’s second deployment, that time to Iraq, he was assigned to a brigade. I ardently believe that brigade changed the course of our lives and Tim’s career.
The leadership within the brigade helped foster not only Tim and his career but our whole family. Drill weekends weren’t such the burden for me when I knew Tim was actually acomplishing, learning, and advancing during his time away from us. When I was six months pregnant with Jack and the thought of paying for childcare for two kids started to weigh on us, the brigade inadvertently opened a door for us and offered Tim eighteen months of active duty orders. It would give us the opportunity for me to stay home with the kids. It took us almost no time to say “yes” and Tim’s active duty career began. Eighteen months turned into twenty-four months and that’s when the idea crept into our minds.
Why not do this full time, all the time? Maybe we should consider Tim going AGR.
Without getting into all the technicalities, AGR is essentially the active duty component of the Army Reserves. If Tim went this route his full time employment would be with the Army similar to that of a traditional soldier. Just like a tradition soldier though, Tim would be subject to tours lasting 2-4 years and he’d most likely be moved to a new location for each tour, we all would.
I was the first to seriously suggest that Tim apply for the program. When he wasn’t fulfilling his Reserve responsibilities he worked for a bank as a civilian. And he hated it. He hated the commute and the bureaucracy of the company. He was a manager but almost only in title. After fifteen years with them, they were stone walling him for any further advancement. He never came home in a good mood. He was worn out, burnt out, and just over it. Day after day while on his active duty orders, he came home in a great mood more often than not. He had stories to tell that weren’t just a series of rants. It was obvious almost immediately that he was happier and more fulfilled with the Army than he ever was with the bank.
I’d be lying if I said the money wasn’t a consideration. It may have looked like a pay cut when we looked at just the base salary but there were many more added benefits that no civilian employer could compete with. The benefits for our family went well past our financial health as well. I’d be able to stay home and work part-time, focusing on the kids and things going on at home more than if I was working full time out of the house like I had been. We both felt having a parent readily available for the kids was important to us, both for the kids and ourselves. Growing up, I watched my mom leave for work before the sun each day and run a crazy scramble after work to get my sister and me to our activities, cook dinner, and make sure homework was done. I really don’t know how she had the energy to do it and I knew I would never be able to replicate it.
The kids were our biggest concern. Would they be lonely with multiple moves? Would they fall behind in school? Would we be able to deal with not having the big support system we currently had in place living so close to family? We talked to other soldiers in the brigade who were on their second, third, fourth AGR tours. We listened to them give us tips about scheduling our moves to align with school schedules and other advice that helped make the transition easier for their kids. We couldn’t guarantee as strong of a support system if we moved but it was a risk we’d have to undertake. In the end though, we felt we’d be better parents if we weren’t stressed and burnt out because of work.
It’s much too early into our experience to make a judgment call on whether we made the right decision or if there are aspects we would have changed. For us in this moment, we’re happy we’re all together, that the kids are thriving in their respective classes, and that Tim’s schedule provides for a lot more family time than it ever has before.
Have you ever made a big career decision? How did it affect you and your family?
Image sourced, used, & modified in accordance with the Creative Commons license via Flickr user The National Guard.