My start as an IMA in the Air Force

This article has become incredibly popular. It was written six years ago at the start of my reserve career. Since then, I’ve had an amazing fun, rewarding and high-impact career. First, I’ve had amazing bosses, Shawn Barnes and Tim Kelly, who are both amazing leaders but understood the difficulty of balancing my day job with a fast paced reserve commitment. They have become both good friends and mentors. Second, as I’ve come to know the system, the AF reserve community can be both supportive and helpful. In any case, don’t let the post below cloud your view of the program. I love the reserves and would recommend it to anyone who wants to keep making a difference while pursuing opportunities outside of active duty. Third, the reserves have given me opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I’ve been able to more than double my impact on the DoD as a civilian and reserve member.

From what I hear the onboarding process is much more streamlined now. In 2014, the IMA program management transitioned to Headquarters Individual Reservist Readiness and Integration Organization (HQ RIO), a new organization focused on streamlining and optimizing the program. The HQ RIO staff acts as an advocate for the IMA program at higher headquarters and is focused on process improvements to enhance the IMA experience. Subordinate to HQ RIO there are seven detachments and their eight operating locations, which are directly responsible for facilitating and meeting the individual needs of the IMAs assigned to them. These folks are good people and work with you to avoid situations like the one I describe below.

If you’re thinking about becoming an IMA, go ahead and visit www.arpc.afrc.af.mil/home/hqrio.aspx. Also, let me know if I can help in any way: tim@theboohers.org.

I’ve had a rough start to my life as a reservist in the Air Force.

It was tough to find time to learn a new bureaucracy. Long and busy workdays in the Pentagon don’t leave free time to work this and as a reservist my first lesson is that you are on your own. Period. No one is looking out for you. To any potential reservist, you need to acknowledge this and repeat it to yourself. This was a shock for someone whose basic model was to work really hard, focus on my job–not myself, and watch good stuff happen. Unlike the active duty military where you are told what you have to do administratively and basically just have to hang on to whatever speed they put the treadmill on, reserve duty is like finding your way to the lost temple in the middle of a thick jungle. This article is meant to help some future IMA find their way a little more easily. Since we IMA’s have to learn a new bureaucracy, we should at least help each other out.

My history up to this point is that my Pentagon reserve recruiter was very nice and made the system sound wonderful. She took my resume and was going to line up an excellent job for me. I made it very clear I wanted to participate in the reserves as an IMA and sent her everything she requested. It seemed like there were folks to help make the transition easier and I rushed forward with the knowledge that this process was going in the right direction.

But months passed and I didn’t hear from her and my voice mails went unanswered. I wasn’t too worried since a friend from my current office had taken a program management job at the Air Force Research Lab and she told me she wanted to hire me to support her. Great. It was a perfect fit for my skill set, she just needed to get the position created and funded. I put together a resume and sent it her way.

After almost a year of waiting for that to happen, I started to get nervous. She kept hitting bureaucratic barriers to getting a position. (A position was always one meeting away.) However, at the last minute her husband, also an Air Force officer, needed help starting up a new program and he had a number of positions he could hire against. He approached me with a plan to hire me to help his program and he would “loan” me to his wife. He is a good friend with an exciting program and it sounded like a perfect solution.

We tried to make it happen, but despite stating that I wanted to work as a reservist at every opportunity during my outprocessing, my assignment orders said DISCHARGE, not “RELEASE FROM ACTIVE DUTY/TRANSFERS TO RESAF”. I didn’t know to check this box, which was my bad. But I was frustrated no-one asked and nothing I was given told me to check this. It would have been helpful to have been asked or, better, the reserve recruiter could have told me to ensure my orders released me to transfer to RESAF.

Regardless, this made things complicated as I got close to my one year point and I was told I was going to be discharged. It was incredibly confusing to figure out who I should talk to. The reserve recruiter had moved on and her replacement informed me that she couldn’t help me since she was an “in-service” recruiter and only could talk to active duty members. She got me in touch with the Officer Accession Recruiter for the Pentagon, who was at Andrews in Maryland.

I called her on June 25, 2010 (August 8, 2009 was my date of separation so I was getting nervous). She called me back three days later and told me I had been “scrolled” (a new term for me that I still can’t define) and she confirmed I was going to be dis-enrolled unless we did some crazy bureaucratic maneuvering. I couldn’t figure out what I was going to be dis-enrolled from, but she told me it meant that I would lose my commission and would have to re-apply. Since I work in the Pentagon, but live in Virginia, she told me she couldn’t help me and that I had to work with a officer accessions recruiter from Richmond, VA–over 100 miles away! I called and emailed him right away (on 6/28). After 3 or 4 more phone calls, 36 precious days later, I had only gotten one phone call on my voicemail from him.

In desperation, I called back to the physically closest recruiter at Andrews who agreed to be helpful (“this is outside my job . . .”) and get me back to S7 status (anyone know what that is?) so I could get the process moving. She told me I needed to take an oath of office immediately to get into the reserves (a form AF133). I quickly found a flag and had a friend swear me in and sent the form to the recruiter at Andrews.

The following email was sent to ARPC/DPAAA:

As per our brief conversation, Mrs xxx confirmed that Maj Booher has been previously scroll approved and still authorized to complete a reserve oath within in his 12 month window. She requested that AF133 be dated for 4 Aug 2010 and once received ARPC/DPAAA will be able to update him back to S7-IRR status. Please see the attached AF133 and update accordingly.

Also note that Maj Booher is now working with recruiting to obtain a AFR position and transfer out of IRR and into a CAT B billet so anything you can do to ensure he is updated back to S7 status as soon as possible would be greatly appreciated. His original AF133 has been placed in snail mail and will arrive to you shortly.

Thank you so much for the short notice assistance!!!

Then, to the Virginia reserve recruiter (AFRC/RS) on 3 August:

Maj Booher has completed his AF133 (Attached) and it has been forwarded to ARPC/DPAAA for update back to S7-IRR status. Maj Booher has been interviewed and tentatively offered a IMA position out at WPAFB and needs recruiter assistance to proceed with his application. Please contact Maj Booher at your earliest convenience he is ready to proceed with processing.

That day, I finally heard back from the reserve recruiter in Virgina at 7:19 pm:

I apologize for not contacting you sooner. No excuse on my part. Would you be able to talk tomorrow afternoon? Please name the time and I will make it happen. We can discuss the next step. Yes, I would like the contact information for the gaining unit. Thank you. Have a good evening.

O.K. I was ready to get to work and the gaining unit wanted me. I sent him the contact information for the gaining unit. Then started sending him a ton of forms. He needed:

  • DD 214
  • Last 3 OPR’s
  • Resume
  • copy of physical once it is accomplished.

Fortunately, I had scanned everything in and could get it to him quickly. The only complication was that I didn’t have an up to date physical. Since I wasn’t “in” the reserves, this was a really complicated bureaucratic catch-22. I couldn’t use a DoD medical facility, but I needed a DoD physical. I could get a recruiting physical (months away), but that didn’t work either since I had sworn an oath and was now a sweet S7-IRR. The Virginia recruiter told me to see if I could get a DoD doctor friend to give me a physical it would make the situation work out. I was able to beg/cajole my way into a doctor’s office and since I was still in the computer system, confuse enough admin people into processing the physical and administering a PHA. When I finally got to a doctor (someone who is allowed to think!), it was easy to lay out the situation and he gave me all the paperwork I needed, which I quickly sent to the Virginia recruiter.

After this, we sent maybe 20 emails back and forth, mostly me bugging him to get me “gained to file”. Finally, on 14 October, I got this email:

I found out that the reason that you were not gained on 1 Oct is due to 2 things. One, the folks in the assignments branch at ARPC are working at 50% manning right not and are about 30 days behind. Two, your file was turned into the wrong technician at ARPC. So, I confirmed with our liaison at ARPC that it is now turned into the correct technician. So, I will be checking every few days to see if they have projected you to your new assignment. I apologize for the delays, but it is not really in my hands at this point. All I can do is follow up. Please let me know if you have any other questions sir. I will be TDY all next week with limited phone and e-mail access. I hope that by the time I return you are all squared away.

OK, so I was getting close. I didn’t hear anything until 25 October until I got this email:

I just became aware that you are being reported in Air Force Fitness Management System (AFFMS) as being an IMA member for xxx. The report also show that you are due for a PFA and I can assist you in scheduling for this event. If this is an error please let me know.

Wow, so that is how you find out you have been gained to file. However, once I was gained to file life just started getting complicated. Neither supervisor knew the ropes and the administrative “support” started pelting me with emails demanding OPRs, feedbacks, PFA’s, orientations, etc. This was all couched in the language of the system I didn’t understand — all in a process I didn’t understand. For example, I didn’t know how to get an id card so I went to my local MPF and asked for one and they gave it to me with a “Maj” stamped on the front. That worked well, but it didn’t get any easier.

I started getting questions like this from my supervisor:

do you come with your own days or do you need mandays? I heard that all IMAs get about 30 days or more from a central pot to use thru year and that you only need mandays to go above that amount.

Answer: I don’t “need” mandays. I had an actual position so I just “need” individual training days (IDT’s) and my two week tour.

In this whole process, the only people with the corporate knowledge are existing IMA’s. Information comes in emails such as this one from a friend:

IDTs and the 2-week annual tour are centrally funded.

All mandays will need to come from [your supervisor]. Mandays also require a TDY fund cite. For locals, we get paid for driving one round trip for the entire tour (e.g. I’d get 20 miles for driving to work on day 1 and 20 miles for driving home on day 90). Locals get no per diem, but [I] would get per diem, hotel, travel, etc.

Below is what each IMA is required to do each year for the unit that owns his/her billet. Mandays can be done for any unit (apparently), whether or not they own the billet. IMAs may also do additional unpaid IDTs, but the unit that owns their billet must sign off.

Mandatory IMA participation:

|.IMA Category|.IDTs|_.AT|
|A|48 paid|2 weeks|
|B|24 paid|2 weeks|
|E|24 unpaid|2 weeks|

[My supervisor] may have the option to pay for [my] travel and hotel for the unpaid IDTs; I’m pretty sure it isn’t centrally funded. In general, the 24 IDTs will have to be done wherever [I could] do them for free. The 2-week tour includes travel and per diem from the central fund. [I] will be expected to do those at WPAFB.
Any mandays for any IMA are on top of the above requirements.
The 2-week tour and all mandays count as active duty time. IDTs do not.

O.K., that was helpful. But where do I do things like medical? Why was I getting emails saying I was late for my OPR, etc? Check out this one:

I am in the process of updating your records and changing your rater. However, you have a projected OPR C/O of 23 Mar 10 through Maj xxxx. Can you tell me the status of when this OPR will be closed? As soon as the 23 Mar OPR is closed out in MILPDS I will be able to update your information for your current IMA position.

followed by:

What is the status of your 23 Mar 10 OPR? This is overdue and is affecting directorate staff meeting charts. Would you please check into this and let me know when it might be completed? Please send me a copy of the OPR when complete.

What? I haven’t started yet? Then, I get:

I am reviewing the IMA Readiness Roster. . .You are showing Red across the board. I just wanted to find out the status of your dental, RCPHA, Fitness, Immunizations and OPR.

Then, I was asked to provide:

  • Duty Schedule (UTAPs – IDT/Annual/MPA)
  • Assignment Order
  • vRED
  • SGLI (SGLV 8286) – ARMS
  • vMPF Record Review RIP
  • Point Credit Summary
  • Form 40As / IMT 938s
  • Fitness Test Results
  • Family Care Determination Checklist

Status? Of what? What is an RCPHA? Sorry, but I didn’t know what SGLI form they wanted. Which page of the vMPF gave the record review? What was a Point Credit Summary? Form 40A, is that the same as an IMT 938? Where do I do my fitness test? I live in VA, but work at WPAFB, if I am overdue, do I need to fund my travel there to take a PT test? What travel gets funded? What is a Family Care determination checklist and where do I get this from? What is a vRED again? What the heck is UTAPs? You get the point.

All this is possible to find out, but I didn’t have the time to become a personnel expert. I could guess on all of this and send stuff over, but on what status should I be on as I train myself for all of this. I have to make phone calls, but I can’t do it from my day job. This might only be 5 hours of work, but it needed to be during the day.

The end result of all of this is that I ended up working 3 IDTs for my friend at AFRL, but my supervisor could never figure out how to give me credit for my IDTs (as of March 12th I still haven’t gotten credit). I never figured out where and how to get all the administrative stuff figured out. The difficulty of being shared, the logistical problems of an out of town initial assignment, and the administrative difficulties made the decision easier to take a local position which fit my skills well and had extensive experience integrating reservists. Wish me luck!

I’ll admit that I’m a an overworked Pentagon analyst who doesn’t have much time to master all of this during the day, but I hope I’ve had particularly bad luck getting everything started and my experience is out of the norm. Comments greatly appreciated.

24 thoughts on “My start as an IMA in the Air Force

  1. I’m planning on switching over to IMA. I’m enlisted and totally thank you for being so open about your experience. I’m currently looking for a mentor to help me with the transition.

  2. Thanks for sharing, this was an interesting read.

    I have gone through a remarkably similar scenario transitioning from Active Duty to an IMA slot. It’s been 7 months, 2 recruiters (1 retired during the process), resubmission of paperwork at least 3 times, and at times 5-6+ weeks without a return phone call or email, but I got a call from my in service recruiter yesterday that everything is set to go for me to be gained by the unit.

    Bottom line is that if you really want to get an IMA slot post separation the onus is on you to stay on top of it and be persistent or it may never happen

  3. Ugh, trying to transition into the IMA program right now.. It is definitely difficult. I feel like no one knows all the rules. I’m a 1N3 at Lackland. Help me!

  4. Thanks for sharing this… I’m looking to transition from active duty to IMA. If you have any more insight for a fellow officer, I’d love to hear it! 64P here.

  5. Google “Readiness Management Group 2012 Individual Reserve Guide”. That helped for me. Also take frequent trips to the RMG website for information. Don’t wait for somebody to call you, the clock is ticking and you are on your own.

    -Josh, new IMA

  6. I’ve been an IMA for 16 months now. Took my organization 13 months to badge me and I still don’t have my network accounts. I spend nearly all of my time accomplishing readiness (PHA, Dental, Fit test, CBTs, boards, OPRs, chasing ATs, etc. etc.) and very little actually in mission. The system (computers and people/supervisors alike) only ever reaches out to me to tell me I haven’t accomplished something that’s red on some senior’s dashboard. In my active duty military experience, I became used to a system that supports me administratively so I can execute the hell out of the mission. My current situation feels like my mission is simply the process of existing in the system.

    Josh is right. You are on your own. My add is that if someone does call you, you probably missed something.

  7. I aM Alone = IMA
    Thanks, Tim, for sharing. I am a long-term reservist but introduction to the IMA world was a harsh wake-up call that you become your own orderly room, admin support, scheduler, and advocate. Even after six years as an IMA, I recently took on the foolhardy challenge of changing IMA positions. I submitted the forms, said goodbye to my former base of assignment, and sat waiting…and waiting…and waiting. Forms were lost, positions were magically deleted from ARPC computers, wrong AFSCs were put in….nine months later I am still….waiting! When I (thought I) was finished at my first base, I was current on all requirements and my new boss wanted me to save my IDTs for the new assignment. Well, now I am scrambling to get everything current again. I only have two more years left and really want to serve but it is almost a full-time job to keep bugging my RMG and ARPC to get reassignment orders. Tip: Once you get an IMA position – stay there!

  8. Wow! Every single thing you mentioned above happened to me too
    except for the nearly lost my commission part and that is only because my buddy who is a reservist squared me away. This process needs a hard look especially since there will be a lot more transfers into the reserves because of the purge.

  9. Holy cow…let’s see, my first IMA assignment (during W’s first administration) magically dropped out of the sky – I shot an arrow into a black hole, and got a phone call a few months later from a mystery Col who liked my resume and wanted to sign me up for the ultimate sweet deal. Once that happened, things went great (mostly – it’s been a long time and I have probably repressed a lot), as that Col was a career personnelist who knew how to wheel and deal, and did so with vigor for his growing gaggle of IMAs. Before that, I recall pleading with some guy in the AFPC basement to please, please, PLEASE move my file from the St. Louis (warehouse) stack to the Reserve stack, and that yes, I was trying to join the reserves, and fortunately he listened. (They had paper records back then.) Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of learning and re-learning God knows how many systems, most of which have been home-grown, clunky slugs that eventually did the job. Got on DTS, kicked off DTS, now back on but a PhD isn’t helpful in figuring out how to process everything, and orders routinely are still sitting in the queue a day or two before I am supposed to travel. My favorite sport each year used to be trying to figure out where to send my dental exam report to get the record updated – usually took several phone calls and a lot of trial and error, as it kept changing.

    In defense of ARPC and the RMG detachments: they are sorely undermanned, and one deep (or zero deep) for many functions. As for the recruiters, I contacted one last week about a high school senior who I am trying to talk into ROTC, and I was given completely wrong information. Not sure what’s going on in the Recruiting Service and how many people they lose, but apparently it’s still happening regularly.

    One great thing about getting old is that when you stick around long enough, your friends may be in high places and you may get a chance to improve the situation. No promises, but I’m there and I’m working on it! This post and the feedback here are very helpful in drawing the picture for the leadership.

  10. How did you all decide to become an IMA instead of TR? I’m currently a TR and was thinking about changing to IMA in order to change to another AFSC that is currently only available in another state. I was thinking about changing since I heard that as an IMA, all or half of the drill days can be completed at the same time? Any suggestions on whether I should stay as a TR or do IMA would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!!

  11. I was active duty, then became a TR and transitioned in to an IMA position 3 years ago. I like the flexibility of being an IMA but I have had plenty of lessons learned through the last 3 years. Words of warning if they IMA position is out of your local commuting area then you are responsible for your travel to IDTs (just like a TR to their normal drill weekends.) But be advised many organizations will only allow you to perform IDTs Mon-Fri so if you are not in the local commuting area you are on the hook for hotel over the weekend. Also if you are not in the local commuting area and performing IDTs then you are not authorized a rental car and your unit may not help you with the use of a GOV. If it is in your local commuting area then you won’t have to worry about a vehicle. I am allowed to group all of IDTs and AT at the same time that does make it nice but you no longer have permanent party there to help you or keep you advised of things it is all on your own! It is very tough…..

  12. I was active duty for 4 years, an IMA for 11 years and a TR for 3 years. I am finishing my career as an IMA. To oversimplify the difference between a TR and an IMA…your schedule as a TR is pretty inflexible, but your unit is very supportive (in all respects). As an IMA, you have a flexible schedule but you are totally without support (in all respects). The best guidance you can get as an IMA is from other IMAs. They will share your frustrations and provide some solutions.

    And recall the advice of the former AFRC commander, LGen Stenner, who said as a reservist your life is a three legged stool between your family, your civilian job, and the reserves. If all of them are a little bit angry with you, you’re balanced.

    So…I don’t worry so much about overdue OPRs but I do worry about my PHA and Dental and PT test….Because the reserves care about that so much they’ll prevent me from getting paid. And I don’t worry when I get a nasty gram from someone saying I’m late on something I’ve never heard of. If it comes from my supervisor, I act on it, but otherwise it goes to the back burner. If you give every demand the same weight you’ll need a hefty prescription for anti-anxiety meds sooner rather than later.

    Too, don’t expect much from your active duty supervisors. It’s not their fault–they get zero training on managing reservists, and they don’t have any idea what it’s like to have more than one job. They have a tendency to think you have to act immediately on everything or you’re not as dedicated as they are. Other reservists understand that the problem is that you are dedicated to all three legs of that stool, and that you’ll get to it in due time. Don’t expect the active duty to have the same understanding as your fellow reservists.

    Other advice: When you show up to do your reserve duty, be happy. You won’t know hardly anyone since your last reserve tour, but act like you are totally comfortable and ready to do whatever it is they ask of you. If you have a list of training or other stuff to do, tell your supervisor first thing in the morning that first day and try to put it in a way they can identify with, not in the way that makes them think you are a recalcitrant slacker. So, it’s “You know that information assurance training? I have to do that before it’s overdue,” not “I have do all that %^** mandatory annual training because I can’t log into it at home.” It’s okay to feel the second way, but save that sentiment for the other reservists. (As an aside, more than once I’ve been welcomed to my unit by an active duty person who’d been there a few months…although I had been there a few years….Remember, they mean well….And were you really all that different when you were active duty??)

    So…knowing whether or not to be a TR or an IMA, to me, is a matter of asking yourself three questions: Does my current job require flexible schedules? Am I the sort of person who really values camaraderie, or am I okay going it alone? Will my family need me on the weekends, or can my current job spare me during the workweek? Expect that as you make life changes the answers to these questions may change, and that’s okay, because you can change your reserve assignments accordingly. Not without some pain…but by that time you’ll be used to it.

  13. IMA = I’M Alone! In my opinion, nobody should ever transition straight into the IMA program. It takes time to learn how to become a Reservist and learn the Reservisms. The best way to do that is in a unit – at least then you will have a semi-competent orderly room/personnelist (hopefully), or at least SOMEBODY around on drill weekends who can help you navigate the bureaucracy.

  14. IMA program will 7 years it impersonal your a number that helps or hurts there stats. Your nothing more than a number in. Rmgs rating expect to spend your money traveling after AT for things like oh pt test rewuared twice a year or anything the activeduty failed to get you time to do. Reason your a reservist they will use you fully for your tours so cbts. Logon at home again all on you free of charge for usaf. Det2 Hickam is ran as we should be happy to spend my money an off time completing things. Yes they say your ruining there statuses. They lost there thought that we are people not numbers. In short trs you have friends an people that help get all your usaf stuff done imas its on you alone.

    • *you’re…..YOU’RE……..YOU ARE……

      OK…enough on the English language.

      As a member of the AF or AFR it is your responsibility to make sure you stay current on your stats (medical, dental, fitness, OPR/EPR) not someone else. If you cannot do that, do not come work for me. I have enough trouble with my own Airmen/NCOs.

      If you are being treated like a number, then you are probably acting like a number. Get out, make a spot for someone else!

  15. I just seen this right on the money if someones telling you things other than this its a lie this is whats it is . please post this guy everywhere if you can to maney peple screwing up there careers go in the ima program. You traing will be get to work an good luck.

  16. IMA program was mentioned to me today. I am outgoing active duty and I’m glad I found this. Pretty sure I’ll say “naaaaah.” To think that I would have to travel to Germany on my own dollar…no bueno.

  17. Does anyone know of a support network for IMAs? My wife just became an IMA and she is struggling on developing her first set orders and the associated process. We currently live in Houstn and any help would be appreciated.

  18. I also transitioned from active duty to IMA reserve position because due to my job constraints, being a regular traditional reservist would not work, and I wanted to continue to serve. As someone mentioned above, the IMA world is not for everyone, because no one takes you by the hand and takes care of everything for you. That’s OK with me, I’ll figure it out, and you can and you will if you want to. For TOPGUN above coming off active duty, please reconsider the IMA path…its a great opportunity to continue to serve and work with active duty. Nothing rewarding in life is easy, give it a try.

  19. As an IMA with AFOSI for 15 years I found that my active duty counter parts were always helpful in managing my career. They kept me in the loop and made sure I never had to worry about the administrative parts of the job. The admin folks handled everything for us and let us do our jobs. Most of the time you could not tell the IMA’s from the active duty folks. If your’e having trouble as and IMA you should have your managers look at the AFOSI IMA program as a model.

Leave a Reply