Our Active Guard Reserve (AGR) Experience

My husband has almost 15 years of active service in the Army – the latter half as part of the Army Reserve AGR program. Because there is often some confusion about the AGR program and how my husband ended up in what some consider the best kept secret in the Army, I thought I’d write a post all about our AGR experience and answer some questions about the program. As a general disclaimer – please note that everything discussed in this post is a reflection of our personal experience and it not necessarily reflective of other people’s experience with the program.

Okay, first of all, what exactly is AGR? AGR stands for Active Guard Reserve. The Army Reserve has an AGR program and each state has their own National Guard AGR Program, which is different than the federally-run Army Reserve AGR program. My husband is in the Army Reserve AGR program so this post will only reflect information regarding that particular program.

Wait – your husband isn’t active duty? My husband is no longer considered Active Component. He ETSed (Expiration of Term of Service) in 2008 and formally separated from his ‘regular’ active duty service in the Army. However – as an officer in the AGR Program, he is considered active duty. Confused? Read on!

Your husband got out of the Army? Yup. It wasn’t an easy decision. In 2007, he returned home from a difficult 16-month deployment to Afghanistan. A lot has been written about his unit, such as the first part of The Outpost by Jack Tapper (which is currently being filmed as a movie – Orlando Bloom is playing Ben Keating) and various posts on this blog – like this one. He really wanted 12 months of dwell time (at home) before deploying again, but all signs were pointing to him having to deploy again less than a year after returning home from a 16-month deployment.

A few weeks after he returned home, we were preparing to PCS for him to attend Captains Career Course (CCC) across the country. But then he was informed by his branch that he’d almost certainly deploy immediately upon CCC graduation because his MOS was a critical need for MiTTs (Military Transition Teams). That meant that he’d more than likely would’ve deployed again only 7 months after returning home from a 16 month deployment. So because the Army couldn’t guarantee him 12 months at home (one year dwell time to mentally reset), he dropped his ETS paperwork. To this day, it is one of his decisions that I respect the most – he knew he wasn’t in the right headspace to deploy so soon after a hard deployment filled with a lot of casualties. It was a very tough decision but it was the right one.

He ETSed at the beginning of 2008 and signed a two-year stabilization agreement with the North Carolina National Guard in order to fulfill the rest of his commitment (4 years Active Duty and 4 years IRR (Individual Ready Reserve)) of his ROTC scholarship. When he ETSed, we moved to Raleigh, North Carolina and settled into civilian life for a few months. He wasn’t happy in his civilian job so when the North Carolina National Guard offered him active duty orders, he jumped at the chance (with my support, of course). My husband then attended CCC, took command of a Company, and then he deployed with them to Afghanistan (two years after returning home from his previous one, which was more than enough time to reset). When he returned home from that deployment, he transitioned to the Army Reserve and applied to the AGR program soon after. And before we knew it, he accepted his first AGR assignment and he became an active duty soldier again in the eyes of the government.

What made your husband decide to apply to the AGR program? After all, he’d already left active duty, right? I may be biased but I think my husband is an amazing soldier. He enjoys serving his country and being part of something greater then himself. When we reflect back on the 2007-2008 timeframe, it’s very likely that he would have remained ‘regular’ active duty if a just few (seemingly small) things played out a little differently. But that’s life. In fact – when he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel last month, he exclaimed, “How did this even happen? I got out as a Captain!” in his speech to a room full of laughter.

Over the years, we’ve learned that we’re not that motivated by money – acquiring wealth isn’t a life goal of ours. Could he be earning more money if he hadn’t chose to back to active duty? Possibly. But we’re comfortable and don’t mind the smaller footprint this lifestyle affords. Don’t me wrong – it’s not a fairytale – there are plenty of times when I say that I’m fine and I’m not. That being said, there is a lot about the military lifestyle that we like and that meshes well with our outlook on life. We enjoy living in new places and do not have the desire to settle down anywhere (we haven’t found ‘our’ place yet). If we were absolutely content staying in one place and wanting to put down roots, he would not have applied to the AGR program because as you can see with the next answer – our life is not much different than when he was Active Component.

How is AGR different than regularly active duty Army? It’s not really – at least in our experience. Some people are surprised when they learn that my husband is AGR because our life is no different than when he was Active Component (e.g. ‘regular’ Army) except that the majority of his positions are in support of Reserve units, rather than Active Component ones. That being said, the majority of the organizations he has worked for have been a mix of both Active Component and Reserve soldiers.

On paper, our life is no different than when my husband was regular active duty Army – we still move every 1-3 years, the rank structure and promotion schedule are exactly the same, he is paid the same, our benefits are the same, his uniform is the same, and he is still deployable. He is active duty. The only difference is that instead of supporting the Active Component, he is supporting the Reserve Component.

If your husband likes being active duty so much, why doesn’t he just go back to the regular active Army? He has sort of created a niche for himself within the AGR program. It’s a smaller community, which we like, and it’s been good for our family. And depending on the needs of the Army (strength of force, national security, foreign policy outlook, etc…), it’s not always easy to ‘go back in’ – a lot depends on the political climate of the country at any given point in time. When he ETS’ed, the Army Reserve AGR program was nowhere on his radar. But he stumbled upon an opportunity and it has absolutely been a great fit for our family.

Do you miss anything about regular active duty? Like I said, our lives are not much different – if at all. But there is something special about being part of a Combat Brigade community when there is a dangerous war being fought. The intense camaraderie, the tradition, and the sense of belonging we experienced during his time with the 10th Mountain Division isn’t something we’ve experienced to that caliber since. That being said – we still experience a lot of those things and have made great friends along my husband’s AGR journey.

Okay – that’s probably enough for now. I do hope this post helps to clarify some of the misconceptions about the Army Reserve AGR program. If you have any more questions or want to chat about it in more detail, please don’t hesitate to contact me!

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How We Chose Our Family Summer Vacation – 2019 Edition

Last year – I wrote a post about how we chose our summer vacation. It was a big hit on social media and prompted a lot of discussion about planning family vacations with a lot of people chiming in on what works best for them. So I thought I’d do it again this year. Back at the end of January, we started to seriously discuss where we wanted to travel this summer. We had our ill-fated New York City trip already planned, we knew we were going to Amelia Island for Spring Break, and while we penciled in trips to Williamsburg and Hershey Park and possible trips to see our parents in Lake Lanier and Wilmington, we had yet to narrow down our big summer trip. So one night at dinner, the four of us brainstormed possible vacation ideas.

Our kids were campaigning hard to go to Disney World this summer. We said no. But we are entertaining the idea of going there in November. Over Thanksgiving. Yes – we’re apparently masochists. As you can see, our list was all over the place. For as much as we’d love to travel to all of the places tossed around at dinner, our wallets and schedules say otherwise. So how did we narrow down our list?

First to be scratched off the list was a Caribbean cruise and any Caribbean island. We reasoned that because we’re going to Amelia Island for Spring Break and likely visiting Clay’s parents at their new place in Ocean Isle, North Carolina this summer, we will be able to get our beach fix at those places. We haven’t ruled out a cruise in the future but right now, it just doesn’t really appeal to us. This picture isn’t helping.

Truth be told, we researched traveling to Hawaii fairly extensively. We found some decent prices on airfare and hotels but most of the deals involved us staying on one island the entire time. When we added island hopping into the mix, the end result was more than we were comfortable paying. We also looked into Costa Rica, which actually appealed to us more than Hawaii and was cheaper. But since our desired travel time was smack dab in the middle of the rainy season there (hence the lower prices), we decided to save that trip for another year.

We also very briefly considered South Africa because we came across a fantastic deal on a vacation package but ultimately decided that we’d rather go when the kids are just a little bit older.

We then got a bee in our bonnet about taking a road trip throughout the eastern shore of Canada. We throughly enjoyed our New England road trip a few years back and thought it’d be a great way to save a few pennies while seeing some of the most remote areas of North America. Hahahahaha. When we started pricing car ferries to the various remote islands of Canada, we were met with sticker shock. Sorry Cape Breton Island, we won’t be seeing you this year!

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And then before we knew it, we were pricing flights to California. We sketched a rough itinerary of four days in Disneyland (we even reserved a hotel room!) and then taking a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway into Northern California. We told ourselves that California was the destination for our big summer trip and began to plan accordingly. But then the more we thought about it, the more we realized that we both wanted our next Disney-related trip to be Walt Disney World instead of Disneyland again. We don’t see ourselves going to either park multiple times over the next decade so we reasoned that it makes more financial sense to do our Walt Disney World trip in the near future, rather than spend money going to Disneyland again. So we cancelled our hotel reservation.

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We were eating lunch at Old Brogue in Great Falls when we seriously began discussing going to Ireland this summer. We loved Scotland and England so we had no doubt that we’d love Ireland too.

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Italy was also high on our list, as was Germany. The more we entertained the idea of going to Europe again, the more excited we became at the prospect. So few weeks ago, we became absolutely determined to make it happen within our budget. We were somewhat flexible with dates (a huge difference from last year due to Clay’s previous position) so we started looking at flights to almost every major European city in July. We were also flexible with the location. We spent a little time each night researching flights and tracking on a spreadsheet the price to fly to various European cities.

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And before long – we came across a fantastic deal on airfare that almost seemed too good to be true. So we bit the bullet and booked four airline tickets to Munich, Germany!

Yup – we’re going to spend almost two weeks in Germany this summer and we couldn’t be more excited. Both of our ancestors hail from Deutschland and beer and Bavarian pretzels are practically our love language so I have the feeling that we’re going to feel right at home in Germany. While we don’t have the details hammered out yet, we plan to visit Munich, Berlin, multiple Bavarian villages, the Alps, and more.

As you can see, our process for choosing a location this year that worked within our budget wasn’t exactly linear nor easy. Would we love to go on multiple trips throughout world this year? Of course! But that isn’t our reality. But with some flexibility and good ol’ fashioned research, we came up with a summer travel plan that has us excited.

Have you planned your summer travel yet? If so, where are you going?

How I Came Up With My Style Uniform

Minimalism is one of those concepts that seems has a million different definitions. To me – minimalism is all about reducing the desire to want more and embracing the idea of being happy with less. While I do not consider myself a minimalist – Clay and I have definitely been dipping my toes into the simplicity pool over the past few years and we’re enjoying the temperature of the water. For example, we’ve learned that we prefer a dwelling no bigger than 2000 square feet. We are now much more appreciative of clear spaces. We now value experiences over tangible items. And we’re donating a lot more (thank you Marie Kondo) than we’re bringing back into our home.

An area of my life that just doesn’t really bring me much joy is my closet. Hi! My name is Karen and I am just meh about a lot of my wardrobe. There was a time when I filled an entire walk-in closet with clothes, shoes, and purses but over the past few years, I’ve managed to reduce my collection to half a closet and five drawers. And you know what? It is still too much because I don’t wear about 3/4 of what I own on a regular basis.

I’ve been intrigued with idea of a ‘uniform’ for a little while now. While I don’t see myself wearing the same exact outfit everyday (although it’d be cool to try!), I do love the concept of sticking to what makes me feel the best while being comfortable and looking great. I’m not one who enjoys shopping for clothes on a regular basis and I am much more inclined to jump on accessory trends rather than purchase the must-have wardrobe piece each season. So having a few staples that I rotate between very much appeals to me.

In order to figure out what I want my ‘uniform’ to look like, I first had to go through every single item in my closet and figure out what I really liked to wear and what was just collecting dust. I took everything out of my closet and put on almost everything. I only placed it back into my closet if I loved the way it made me feel. If I only liked the article of clothing on me, I set it aside in a separate pile. And of course, if I wasn’t feeling the piece at all, I put in another pile to donate.

I maximized Clay being TDY and accomplished this task last night after putting the kids to bed. I watched Hulu, sipped on sparkling water with fresh-squeezed lime, and had my own little fashion show in front of our 80s-era closet door mirrors.


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I rotate between four pairs pants on a regular basis – dark wash skinny jeans, light wash skinny jeans, black skinny jeans, and black leggings. I am happy with my pants game – although I could use a nice pair of black dress pants. The top half of my body? Not so much. I have a closet full of fall/winter tops that I don’t love and none of the above tops made the cut for what I am looking for in a daily uniform – a couple of them were placed in the ‘like’ pile though.

The donate pile.

The ‘like’ pile. I hung these up in the guest room closet. I’m not quite ready to part with these pieces but if I find myself not incorporating them into my regular everyday wardrobe over the next couple of months, I will gladly pass them along.

Okay – so by trying on every single piece of clothing in my closet, I was able to quickly determine the pieces that I love and make me feel the most like me. I learned that I much prefer a solid neutral top instead of a pattern. Honestly – there is nothing better than a white shirt in my current world. I love layering so it was no surprise that I much I prefer wearing two thinner pieces instead of one thicker top.

So if I had to choose a daily uniform for this time of year, I think it’d be skinny pants, a thin soft top (tank/short sleeves/long sleeves), and an open sweater/indoor jacket. I like more simple clothes and to experiment with bolder jewelry. Neutrals are my jam and and I don’t care if this makes me boring. I like what I like and I’m so happy that my slightly emptier closet now reflects my daily uniform instead of being full of pieces that I only wear out of obligation.

My wardrobe may not be the envy of fashionistas and the size of my closet may be appalling to some but I quite like it. My goal is to not buy any more clothes (with the exception of some more white shirts and a pair of black dress pants) for quite some time because I have more than enough. Wearing the same type of outfit over and over again may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I’m pretty sure it is going to be mine. Hi! My name is Karen and I love having a style uniform.

Have any of you experimented with a style uniform or a capsule wardrobe? Do you enjoy clothes shopping or do you find the entire process exhausting and sort of a self-esteem killer?

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Below are some blogs and articles that helped me conceptualize how I want to dress and change my outlook toward my wardrobe:

Confessions of a Military Spouse

Over the weekend, we attended a hail and farewell on Joint Base Myer–Henderson Hall. The Army isn’t necessarily known for it’s beautiful instillations or spectacular locations but the rolling hills on Joint Base Myer–Henderson Hall offer some of the most gorgeous and uniquely American views of both Arlington National Cemetery and the National Mall across the Potomac River. Whenever I am on the post, I’m calmed by the history, beauty, solemness, and unity that hangs in the air.

Hail and farewells are traditional Army events where incoming and outgoing personnel are recognized. While I side-eye some of the more outdated military social practices (e.g. calling cards and officer wives clubs), I’ve thoroughly enjoyed attending military balls, dining outs, promotion parties, and hail and farewells over the years. And last night, while animatedly talking with some of Clay’s coworkers – a glass of cabernet sauvignon in my hand – I had the realization that such social engagements are what keep me going when I am frustrated most with the Army. When I stripped down our somewhat transient and seesaw existence, it’s simply a collection of moments involving the breaking of bread together, camaraderie, and respect.

Sometimes I wonder if I should write more about experiences specific to being a military spouse. I mentioned in my All Things Army: You Asked, I Answered post that I tend to get a bit squirmy when writing specifically about my husband’s career – I try to do so in as vague of terms as possible, which doesn’t necessarily lend itself to the blogging world. I’ve written about dealing with disappointment and what it is like to return to a duty station and the time I didn’t bloom. But I like to think of this space as so much more than just the sliver of my life that is occupied by being a military spouse.

I am so incredibly proud of my husband – he works hard and gives so much of himself to a cause greater than him. And there is a lot about our lives that is directly impacted by his career. Yes – I am a military spouse because I am married to a member of the military, but it is just one small part of who I am as a person. In fact, I don’t own one piece of clothing with ARMY silkscreened or embroidered on it. All of the spouse-related pins I’ve acquired at various functions over the years are tucked away in a jewelry box, never worn. And I still need to glance at the program when singing The Army Goes Rolling Along at official events and I refuse to use “hooah” as part of my vernacular.

But I also my husband’s biggest cheerleader. I think he is an absolute wonderful human-being, husband, and father and an incredible asset to the Army. I encourage him to compete for difficult assignments. I continue to sacrifice some of my own career aspirations in order to support his. I look forward to the hugs and kisses when he returns from a trip or simply comes home for the day. And I am there for when he simply just needs to talk. I am  many things and a military spouse just happens to be one of them.

After the hail and farewell, the few leaves that were left on the trees rustled in the wind as we walked back to our car from our host’s house. Clay held my hand and thanked me for putting up with the craziness of his job. And when I replied, “I love you and support you and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.” – I meant it.