Once I joined the Reserves, I started out receiving what today would be $11,000 annually for two days of drill per month and 13 days of active duty per year. That increased to $17,600 when I retired in 2001.
Even though I spent 80 percent of my time in uniform as a reservist, I received an annual pension in 2013 of $24,990, to which I contributed no money while serving. (Reserve retirement pay does not start until you turn 60. For those who remain on active duty for at least 20 years, payments start the month they leave service. Those who enlist at 18, right out of high school, can retire at 38 and receive $26,000 a year for the rest of their lives.)
My family and I have access to U.S. military bases worldwide, where we can use the fitness facilities at no charge and take advantage of the tax-free prices at the commissaries and post exchanges. The most generous benefit of all is Tricare. This year I paid just $550 for family medical insurance. In the civilian sector, the average family contribution for health care in 2013 was $4,565, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.