Sgt. 1st Class Ryan McCaffrey, doing pushups, enlisted in the Reserve after 13 years on active duty. It offers him the camaraderie he misses from active duty, he said, and offsets salary and benefits reductions in the private sector. (Staff Sgt. Andrea Smith/Army)
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Bombarded by dire predictions about reductions in force, force-outs, slower promotions and boring garrison duties, many soldiers find themselves wondering what to do.
Army Times tracked down one soldier who walked us through his decision to leave the Army — without really taking off his uniform.
Sgt. 1st Class Ryan McCaffrey stood at a crossroads.
He had 13 years as a military police officer, but the high demand of that job and a tour as a drill sergeant had taken its toll on his family. His stepdaughter was in high school, and his wife had a great job that would be lost to a permanent change of station — and he knew big cuts of soldiers were coming.
McCaffrey traded his ACUs for the polished uniform of the South Carolina Department of Corrections’ training academy. His deployment experience and time as a drill sergeant made it a natural fit. But switching to the civilian sector was no bed of roses.
“The difficulties that I had when separating from the Army were many, to include a serious reduction to our income and benefits,” he said. “It was difficult to find a job that came close to what I earned in the military, even with the amount of supervisory experience a soldier may have, and the caliber of soldiers that I had been able to work with in the past was hard to replace.”
A friend recommended he look at the reserve component. McCaffrey first looked into the National Guard, but a two-grade reduction in rank was too much to take. Then he heard about a drill sergeant unit in the area.
“Once I found that out, I wanted to join,” he said. “Entering the Reserves was a great decision for our family because it helped out financially by adding to our income, and Tricare Reserve Select was less expensive than the medical policy that I had.
“I was able to continue working toward my military retirement, and being back in the military satisfied a part of me that really missed the military,” he said. “It is hard to replace the camaraderie that you have with the other soldiers that you work with.”
McCaffrey, the Army Reserve drill sergeant of the year, said the transition from active duty to the reserves was “pretty smooth.” He fell right into place with the unit and was thrilled to be back in the saddle. And there are many benefits, to boot.
“The best part is that I am able to do what I love, which is training soldiers as a drill sergeant,” he said. “Another benefit has been that I am able to network and learn from other soldiers in my unit, whose experience not only includes what they do in the military, but also what they do in their civilian jobs. I am able to learn from soldiers, drill sergeants, police officers, auto mechanics, [Veterans Affairs Department] representatives, correctional officers, fitness specialists and many more disciplines.
“These benefits, combined with what I mentioned earlier, have certainly made the decision to enter the reserves a really good one.”
McCaffrey is one of thousands of service members who move to the Army Reserve every year. He is working toward two retirements: one with the military and the other with the state government. His family is settled, yet he gets to keep the camaraderie he has come to know and love.
“If a soldier has made the decision to leave the Army, then they should strongly consider looking for a Reserve unit in their area,” McCaffrey said. “There are many soldiers that I have spoken to that have left the military and miss it greatly.
“The Reserves allow you to continue working toward your retirement, trains you and gives you the experience that is difficult to find elsewhere, and keeps you in a profession where the loyalty and esprit de corps is very difficult to find anywhere else.”