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Forced out of the Army, soldiers find careers in the Reserve

Jan. 4, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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Frustrated by his inability to get promoted and the looming Army drawdown, then-Sgt. James Davis left active duty in 1995.

He used his separation bonus to buy his mother a house and then moved on to serve with the U.S. Capitol Police. But Davis quickly began to miss being a soldier.

“I had 13 or 14 years in, and I really enjoyed the lifestyle,” he said. “The only reason I got out was because I couldn’t get promoted, and I decided if I could do both [a civilian career and be in the military], I wanted to.”

In 1998, Davis returned to the Army, this time in the Army Reserve as a counter-intelligence soldier. Today, he is the command sergeant major for the 203rd Military Intelligence Battalion in Maryland, and he still serves as a K-9 handler with the Capitol Police.

“If you would have told me that 30 years ago, I would have very seriously laughed at you,” Davis said about attaining the highest enlisted rank. “There’s no way I could have ever imagined that being possible. I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate.”

Davis credits the Army Reserve with allowing him to advance in his civilian and military careers, and having experienced the Army’s last major drawdown, Davis said he encourages all of his soldiers to look at all their options.

Over the next two years, the Army will trim about 38,000 soldiers from the active force as part of an overall drawdown of 80,000 soldiers.

And the Army Reserve, which is struggling to fill critical shortages in mid-career noncommissioned officer and officer ranks, wants to catch as many as 8,000 of these soldiers as they leave active duty.

“We’re going to have a lot of active-component soldiers that will leave active duty, and these are combat vets. These men and women are incredibly professional, incredibly sharp and talented,” Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Talley, chief of the Reserve and commanding general of Army Reserve Command, has told Army Times. “This is a great opportunity for us to capture those soldiers to help fill our formations.”

The Reserve is critically short of mid-career noncommissioned officers and officers, while it is overstrength in the E-1 to E-4 ranks and the senior enlisted and officer ranks.

The Reserve has about 56 percent of its authorized sergeants first class, 78 percent of its staff sergeants and 87 percent of its sergeants. On the officer side, it has 56 percent of its authorized majors and 79 percent of captains.

The 21 percent shortfall in captains is equivalent to about 3,200 officers, Brig. Gen. Tammy Smith, director of Army Reserve human capital, has said.

To attract soldiers who are transitioning from the active Army, the Reserve is offering a number of incentives, including military occupational specialty training, opportunities to become warrant officers, and potential for promotion.

There is life — and plenty of opportunities — after the Army, said Sgt. Maj. Timothy Stanton, the senior enlisted soldier for the Reserve’s G-1 (personnel). Stanton, who enlisted in 1983, left the active Army in 1992 because he, like Davis, could not get promoted.

Stanton chose the Army Reserve because there was a unit in Tucson, Ariz., where he planned to live. He joined the Active Guard and Reserve program less than two years later, serving in a variety of assignments from Arkansas and Georgia, to Wisconsin and North Carolina, and a deployment to Afghanistan in between.

The Reserve has given him “plenty of opportunities,” Stanton said.

“There are opportunities there for soldiers who want it,” he said. “It’s really what they want to make of it, how far they want to go, and how far they want to go to move forward in their career.”

Col. Paul Shelton felt the same pull as Davis and Stanton after he left the Army.

“I missed the camaraderie,” he said. “There’s no other place that I’ve found where the people are bound together by the mission.”

Shelton, who is the military deputy to the director of force development at the Army G-8, was an enlisted soldier in the National Guard before earning his commission and joining the active Army in 1987.

Shelton left the Army as a captain and took on a “great offer with a great company to go and try my hand in manufacturing,” he said. A year later, Shelton received a letter from the Army, asking if he’d consider putting on the uniform again.

“I kind of scoffed at it, but I think it planted a seed that maybe there was still some soldier left in me,” he said.

The next year, just one month before the Sept. 11 attacks, Shelton joined the Army Reserve and earned a slot in the AGR program. He has since deployed to support Operation Enduring Freedom, commanded a battalion, and served at Army Reserve Command. He also was in Iraq when U.S. forces captured Saddam Hussein, and was selected below-the-zone for promotion to colonel.

As he comes up on his mandatory retirement in fall 2015, Shelton said he has no regrets.

“If I were to advise somebody who’s thinking about maybe trying something different, I would advise them to go into the corporate world and maybe serve in the Guard or Reserve,” he said. “There are just all sorts of ways to serve.”

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