DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. --
Last year, 180 Dover Air Force Base Airmen separated from active-duty service; however, for 50 of those Airmen, electing to leave did not mean they would stop serving. Master Sgt. Heather Lucas-Baptiste, Dover AFB’s Air Force Reserve in-service recruiter, helped make that possible.
Lucas-Baptiste, whose office is located at Dover AFB’s Visitors Center, is responsible for recruiting active-duty individuals interested in transitioning to the Air Force Reserve. The Air Force currently offers two ways for members to transition to serving part-time: Palace Front and Palace Chase.
The Palace Front program allows active-duty Airmen to transfer to a reserve component immediately after their date of separation. The Palace Chase program is a more expedient option that allows Airmen to convert part of their remaining active-duty service commitment into a Reserve commitment. Although individual reasons for wanting to leave active duty may vary, Lucas-Baptiste highlighted how valuable former active-duty members are to the reserves.
“[Active-duty] service members are ‘golden’ members because they come in fully qualified,” said Lucas-Baptiste. “They already have the experience and the professionalism.”
Since the Air Force Reserve is federally funded, Lucas-Baptiste said a major advantage of joining the reserves, as opposed to the Air National Guard, is the retention of benefits, such as tuition assistance.
“Let’s say you are living [in Delaware] but are going to school in Maryland. For the Air Force Reserve, it doesn’t matter where you go to school, we’ll pay for it, as long as it’s an accredited university,” said Lucas-Baptiste. “For the Air National Guard, you have to go to work and go to school in the same state to receive those benefits.”
Those considering transitioning to part-time military service may worry about cross-training and losing rank, as well as flexibility of location. To all those concerns, Lucas-Baptist responds with a resounding “no.”
“We can place people anywhere in the continental United States,” said Lucas-Baptiste. For example, she was able to secure a Reserve position at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, for an individual from New York who had requested to serve in a warm climate.
Serving part-time as a reservist doesn’t necessarily require foregoing active-duty opportunities, either. Reservists can still attend Professional Military Education and travel TDY, according to Lucas-Baptiste.
“It’s unique at Dover, because you have your active-duty counterparts working with the reserve counterparts. So, they are able to get that conversation going with reservists, such as, ‘Hey what are your experiences working with the reserves? What are the pros and cons?’”
With the partnership and collaboration between the 512th Airlift Wing and the 436th Airlift Wing, Dover AFB epitomizes Total Force integration.
“We are stepping into an era of Total Force, which is the blending of active-duty, Reserve and Air National Guard. So, we are working hand-in-hand with our active -duty counterparts,” said Lucas-Baptiste. “Before it was like, we have ‘weekend warriors.’ It’s a different mindset and tempo in terms of training and learning.”
For Lucas-Baptiste, the flexibility of being able to accomplish both her personal and professional goals has been the most rewarding part about being a reservist for 19 years.
“My education I am extremely grateful for. I came in with an undergrad degree, and I have been able to use TA to get my master’s. And now, I’m using my Post-9/11 for my doctorate,” said Lucas-Baptiste. “Getting leadership experience, both on the civilian side and the military side, has been an asset. My experience in the Air Force reserves has been phenomenal, hands down.”
For Airmen desiring an alternative to separating from the Air Force altogether, Palace Fronting or Palace Chasing are viable options.
“Continuing service is a very honorable thing to do. There is life after active duty, and there is opportunity after active duty. If the reserves can provide that, by all means, let’s sit down and talk,” Lucas-Baptiste said.