As someone who has served on active duty and in the reserves, I can confidently say that neither side of the divide fully understands the other. The Army Reserve often thinks of the active Army as drill days that come more often, and the active Army thinks of the Reserve as weekend warriors with no expertise or experience.
They’re both wrong, but reserve drill days are, to put it mildly, weird beasts.
It starts with a long drive
Sure, some people live near their drill location, but as unit after unit after unit gets shuffled around thanks to base closings and re-alignments (plus the fact that there’s always a good chance that a slot for your military job at your current rank isn’t available), you’re going to have one hell of a drive.
If you’re particularly lucky, you’ll be driving a few hours to drill, meaning that you’ll drive up Friday night after work, using Rip-Its and a pinch of dip to stay awake like you’re driving through Ramadi instead of the Carolinas.
Then you have to groom all the stuff you haven’t bothered with in four weeks
Most Reservists aren’t necessarily AR 670-1 friendly the rest of the month, so there’s a lengthy grooming process to get rid of all the hair growth and long fingernails and, in rarer circumstances, bruises, henna tattoos, and Sharpie.
Depending on your living circumstances, you might have to do this before the drive, but whatever. Just scrub until the genital drawings are all off your face.
Finally, throw on the uniform and stumble into PT
It’s obviously best if you’ve actually received the uniform of the day from whoever is disseminating that information (it being your first-line NCO is far from guaranteed), but you’ll be lining up in formation regardless of whether you had the right uniform ahead of time. And, since all the NCOs need to get some instruction time and there are only two PT sessions per month, there’s a good chance there’s a different instructor every time.
A different instructor who only does this once every few months, who didn’t have time to plan until the day before drill, who has to practice the conditioning drills, and who uses the same pocket physical training guide as everyone else. Be prepared for some seriously repetitive workouts, probably conducted while at least four guys who can’t pass tape wheeze behind you.
Admin, admin, admin
When you get to actual work, be prepared for all the admin requirements of active duty to be packed into two duty days. Yeah, cars need to be inspected, people need to learn not to harass each other, and someone has to click through all these anti-suicide slides (because, yeah, PowerPoint is the best way to defeat that particular scourge.)
On the off chance that there is time leftover for actual training, it’s probably going to be conducted by the guys in the unit who have similar jobs on the civilian side, because they’re the only ones with a ton of experience doing the work.
(Side note: This is one of the legitimate advantages of the reserve components. There are a ton of guys in most units who actually get day-in, day-out experience. Truck drivers aren’t sitting around in motor pools waiting for a training exercise where they’ll finally be able to get some wheel time. No, they’re on the road for 40 hours or more a week, so they have lots of experience to share.)
Sure, this could be bundled into admin, but units have to do their property inventories every month on the reserve side just like the active. And that means that at least a few people every month take the special time allocated for ALMS classes to follow the commander around instead.
But this is, obviously, crucial, because otherwise, the Army Reserve might lose track of the weapons that date back to Vietnam, the radios that date back to Desert Storm, or the office implements that still have Eisenhower’s fingerprints on them.
Meals are served in a half-staffed dining facility unless there are too few units at drill to justify starting up the grills. In that case, be prepared for MREs or to do some extreme budget shopping at whatever chain restaurant is so hard up for business that they’ll dive through all the hoops that the Army makes them go through to sell burnt burgers to soldiers.
Vegetarians, understand you’ll be eating the chicken caesar with no chicken. Sorry about that. Still better than a veggie omelet, though.
Finally, release formation
This will, just like on active duty side, run late, especially if annual training or, gods be praised, a deployment is coming up. And sorry, reserve first sergeants are just as likely to piggyback on the commander with comments about “behooving” as their active duty counterparts. The safety brief is extra laughable, though, since everyone there spends three weekends a month successfully not drinking and driving, so it makes it extra odd to get warnings after the fourth.
If you’re commuting and staying in a local hotel during drill, then hope you can make friends with someone in the unit. Because you’re going to be surrounded by them regardless of what you do.