What is an Army Reserve Officer?

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  • Written By: Dale Marshall
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 28 September 2019
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A US Army Reserve officer is a commissioned officer in the United States Army Reserve. Instead of serving on active duty, an army reserve officer pursues a regular civilian career, reporting for periodic military training and service formations. Like all military reserve personnel, an army reserve officer is subject to being called up, or activated, for active duty.

The US Army is made up of an active duty component and a reserve component. There are many reasons for this division, from simple budgetary concerns to the historical distrust of the professional military held by America's founders. Maintaining a large and strong reserve is seen as a solution to many of these concerns. To retain their fitness for duty, members of the Army Reserve generally must participate in periodic training and service sessions. In addition, when activated, members of the army reserve must report for duty or face punishment.


Like all officers in the US Armed Forces, an army reserve officer is a college graduate. The overwhelming majority of new army officers are drawn from America's thousands of colleges and universities. Most of these are considered “civilian” institutions, in which the army operates its Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs to train selected students, called cadets. Some cadets are awarded ROTC scholarships, which pay the bulk of their college expenses; the majority, however, receive only a monthly stipend toward personal expenses. The other main sources of new officers are the US Military Academy at West Point, New York, and Officers' Candidate School.

Upon completion of their education and training programs, the cadets are commissioned as second lieutenants in the US Army. All newly-commissioned officers incur an eight-year service obligation upon commissioning, but the amount of time spent on active duty is based on the source of their commission. West Point graduates must serve at least five years on active duty, while ROTC scholarship recipients must serve four years on active duty. The active duty component of the service requirement of non-scholarship ROTC graduates and OCS graduates alike is three years.

At the point of completion of active duty status, an army officer may request transfer to the reserves; in addition, officers may be involuntarily assigned to the reserves if their fitness reports — regular evaluations of an officer's competence and abilities — are substandard. In addition to attending periodic training and service obligations, reserve officers are expected to maintain themselves physically fit, to keep their uniforms in serviceable condition, and to be prepared for activation.

Transferring from active duty doesn't generally relieve an army reserve officer from military responsibility, though. The training and service formations all reservists attend are conducted by the officers, who are responsible for keeping their units ready for activation. Upon activation, units generally are kept together, so that the officers who were responsible for training them as reserves become responsible for leading them in combat environments.

There are many benefits to being a reserve army officer, including part-time pay and access to military commissaries and post exchanges. Attendance at training and service formations also counts toward a reserve officer's retirement credits. Civilian employers are generally required to recognize the military obligations of reserve personnel, so that many who are activated for active duty can expect to find their jobs waiting for them upon their return.

Although some reserve officers choose to serve out their service obligation and resign their commissions, many lead long careers in the reserves, advancing in military rank while pursuing a civilian career and lifestyle.


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