In my last post (wow so long ago), I mentioned that I would be applying to voluntarily separate from Active Duty due to childbirth. I wanted to share my experience to help any other mamas struggling to figure out what to do after little one is born.
Why I Decided to Separate
Getting pregnant was not something I had planned (at least for a while). In tech school, I had met someone and we started dating. One thing led to another and two months into seeing each other, I became pregnant. We made the decision to get married because with us both being in the military, we wanted to make sure we’d be able to be together or at the very least stationed in the same state. My husband and I have been through hell and back the past year and a half but we love each other and now have a beautiful baby girl. My husband decided shortly after I left tech school that he was going to transfer in to the Army. He had been trying to retrain but due to policy changes he missed his chance, so after almost five years in the Air Force, he felt the Army was his only chance to pursue his dream job. At the time, I was stationed in Florida and he was in Texas so the long distance thing really sucked (especially being pregnant and hormonal LOL). When he separated from the Air Force he went on terminal leave and moved to FL with me until he left for Army Basic Training (LAME). The Army let him go on leave so he could be with me for the birth of our daughter in December. Fortunately, I was being induced due to my high blood pressure so we had a set date. I had a lot of health issues and scares throughout my pregnancy due to preeclampsia. It was a terrible feeling to not have my husband or family close by and I was constantly worried what if something happens and I have nobody. After having the baby, life was a struggle. Adjusting to a baby is no joke. I struggled so much that I decided to head back home to Massachusetts for 2 of the 3 months of my maternity leave so I could be with my family, as my husband had to return to training. During this time of change, I decided that I needed to research my options. I knew that being stationed with my husband was going to be difficult and I didn’t want to be apart, I needed our family together. I knew that the Air Force had changed their policy so that you could separate either before you have your baby or after (you have 12 months after the baby is born to decide). I really did not want to leave the Air Force. I worked so hard to join and I couldn’t just give it all up. So as many military members do, I went to Reddit for advice. I found out that I could separate and then Palace Front to the Reserves. Palace Front is a little bit different than Palace Chase- Palace Front adds a Guard/Reserves service commitment after you have separated to prevent a break in service. Palace Chase is when you leave your contract early to go to the Guard/Reserves- you are eligible to apply after you have served half of your contract. This ultimately gave me the best of both world; more time to be a mommy and be together with my family, and also still being able to serve part time.
Applying for Separation
First thing was first, I texted my supervisor to let him know my plan. I didn’t want to catch anyone off guard. I had mentioned possibly separating and going to the Guard or Reserves before I left for my maternity leave, so when I texted him it was no surprise. Applying for separation was fairly easy. With my handy dandy CAC reader, I logged onto vMPF and went through their Separations application. I had to include the reasoning why I wanted to separate and my daughter’s birth certificate as a supporting document. I made sure to include in my reasoning the hardships I was facing being away from family and raising the baby alone. I also included my goal of pursuing higher education to become a nurse while serving part time whether that be through the Guard or Reserves. After submitting my application, I had to wait for my Squadron Commander to approve or disapprove. I honestly had one of the best Commanders ever so I consider myself very lucky to have Leadership that truly cares about their people. My application was approved within a week. After your Commander approves it, it makes it’s way up to the Base Commander. My Base Commander approved it another week later. Typically, applications are not approved this fast from what I’ve heard. I’ve heard that sometimes people wait months before they are approved and sometimes they are even disapproved.
Guard or Reserves?
After I decided that separating and Palace Front was the best option for me, I needed to decide between the Guard and Reserves. I initially thought definitely Guard, but during my out-processing I had a mandatory appointment with the Reserve recruiter at my base. He asked me if I had planned to go back to school, my answer: yes. Going back to school and becoming a nurse was one of the big reasons I wanted to join the Air Force. He told me that by going Reserves, I would still be eligible for tuition assistance (TA). Additionally, the Guard can get activated at any time for any state emergencies- he told me that with the Reserves, I would be notified of a deployment in advance, saving me the trouble of having to withdraw from classes on a whim. I had let him know that my husband was active duty Army and he also let me know that it is easier to transfer to a new unit wherever he gets orders to than it is with the Guard. I was sold. I filled out some paperwork he had sent me and he helped me narrow my options down to two units by my husband’s base. One of the two reached out to me requesting EPRs but since I was only an E-3, I didn’t have any so I sent him some letters of recommendation. They ended up deciding to take me on and I got to keep my AFSC.
Reserve Life So Far
I separated from active duty on the 1st of May and have been a Reservist since the 2nd. Because of COVID, we have been having our drill (UTA) virtually. So far, it has been great despite not getting to meet my new squadron. I was promoted to E-4 a couple weeks after separating (Reserves promote SUPER fast). I was really excited about that because joining at an older age, I’ve always felt like I’ve been treated based off of my rank and not my actual age and life experience. Now that I meet rank requirements, I can also sign up to volunteer as a victim advocate for the SAPR program on base- something I’ve wanted to do after becoming a teal rope in tech school. I love the flexibility that serving part time in the Reserves gives me. I can go to school using the same TA I would be getting active duty, work a civilian job that pays me better, have extra income from my drill weekends, and finally be together with my little family.
If you or anyone you know is pregnant/just had a baby and are looking for options as far as the military goes, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any questions you may have about this process. I’d also like to add that with the pregnancy separation, it doesn’t have to be your first baby- it can be your second, third, etc. Being a mama can be overwhelming, especially if you don’t have your support system with you. I’m here to help and support you in any way that I can.