A reservist is a person who is a member of a military reserve force. They are otherwise civilians, and in peacetime have careers outside the military. Reservists usually go for training on an annual basis to refresh their skills. This person is usually a former active-duty member of the armed forces, and they remain a reservist either voluntarily, or by obligation. In some countries such as Israel, Norway, Singapore, and Switzerland, reservists are conscripted soldiers who are called up for training and service when necessary.
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The notion of a reservist has been around, in many forms, for thousands of years. In ancient times, reservist forces such as the Anglo-Saxon Fyrd and the Viking Leidangr formed the main fighting strength of most armies. It was only at the end of the 17th century that professional standing armies became the norm.
Historically reservists played a significant role in Europe after the Prussian defeat in the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt. On 9 July 1807 in the Treaty of Tilsit, Napoleon forced Prussia to drastically reduce its military strength, in addition to ceding large amounts of territory. The Prussian army could no longer be stronger than 42,000 men.
The Krümpersystem, introduced to the Prussian army by the military reformer Gerhard von Scharnhorst, arranged for giving recruits a short period of training, which in the event of war could be considerably expanded. With this the reduction of the army's strength did not have the desired effect, and in the following wars Prussia was able to draw up a large number of trained soldiers. By the time of the Second Reich reservists were already being given so-called "war arrangements" following the completion of their military service, which contained exact instructions relating to the conduct of reservists in time of war.
Every conscript which has served at least a day in the Bundeswehr is a reservist, unless he is declared ineligible for military service or has made a claim of conscientious objection. Soldiers of enlisted ranks with a limited contract (either 4, 8 or 12 years) or professional soldiers, who have filled their tour of duty, are likewise part of the reserve. This is also the case for women, but on the basis of the Soldatengesetz (Eng: Soldier Bill), not the Wehrpflichtgesetz (Conscription Bill). Every soldier follows his rank with the initials "d.R." ("der Reserve"—"in the reserve"). So it does not affect whether the soldier is called up, placed in an inactive formation, or not. Only professional soldiers use the appellation "a.D.d.R" ("außer Dienst, der Reserve"—"out of service, in the reserve") after the end of their service. All others (part-time soldiers and conscripts) strictly use "d.R." until the end of their lives.
Reservists are an integral part of the Bundeswehr. They are essential for the capability of the armed forces in time of war.
Reservists can be active in the Bundeswehr in addition to their mandatory service. This mostly happens through (mostly voluntarily) military exercises or official events. Apart from that the Bundeswehr organises reservist unions as particularly representative supporting organisations of "voluntarily reservist work".
Eligibility for compulsory military service for soldiers and other servicemen of low rank ends at the end of the 45th year of age. Thereafter the conscript is no longer part of the reserve. Despite that the appellations "a.D." and/or "d.R." may still be used. Conscription for under-officers and officers lasts until the 60th year of age. Until the 32nd year of age every conscript is subject to military inspection.
Recognised conscientious objectors, who have completed their civil service, are nonetheless part of the reserve and in the event of war will be given a suitable non-combatant role outside the Bundeswehr, such as emergency medical services, clearing debris or minesweeping.
All conscripts who have not done their service belong to the Ersatzreserve (replacement reserve).
All male able-bodied Singapore citizens and second-generation permanent residents upon reaching the age of 18 are required to serve National Service. They serve a two-year period as Full Time National Servicemen (NSFs), assigned to the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Singapore Police Force (SPF), or the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).
When a conscript completes his full-time service, he is considered to be "operationally ready", and is thereafter known as an Operationally-Ready National Serviceman (NSman). NSmen are the equivalent of other militaries' reservists. The difference in nomenclature is because these NSmen will form the bulk of the Singapore Armed Forces in times of war. Similarly, Operationally-Ready NSmen of the SPF and SCDF are available to be called on in time of need.
Reservistas Voluntarios (Volunteer Reservists) provide the Spanish Armed Forces (Army, Navy and Air Force) branches of qualified civilian professionals essentially required for each army. The training is divided in two phases. The first stage it's the Basic Training in military knowledge. The time por this phase are normally two weeks. The second stage, which typical time are one week, it's the Specific Training, in this phase the applicant for Reservist develop the specific tasks in his military unit.
When the Applicant approve the two stages acquires the Reservist title and the rank of Soldier, Sergeant or Second Lieutenant (Alférez). The time of the Reservist commitment it's three years, with extensions until the 58 years old for Officers and NCO and 55 years old for ordinary soldiers.
All three branches of the British Armed Forces have volunteer reserves. Reservists hold civilian jobs and train on a stipulated number of weekends monthly. They are generally assigned to an administrative corps or specialist trade according to their occupations and location in the country.
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All five branches of the United States armed forces have their own Reserve Forces, whose reservists can be called upon to serve anywhere at any time:
- United States Army Reserve
- Marine Forces Reserve (U.S. Marine Corps)
- United States Navy Reserve
- Air Force Reserve Command (U.S. Air Force)
- United States Coast Guard Reserve
There is also the United States National Guard, which is under dual Federal/State control, and is traditionally intended for homeland defense and domestic disaster relief (although large numbers have been deployed in the War on Terror, and as such the distinction between National Guardsmen and Reservists has become blurred). The National Guard is divided into:
During peacetime Reservists and National Guardsmen spend one weekend a month, two weeks a year annually in training.
Some states also maintain non-federal state defense forces as a small reserve for their National Guard units. This units cannot be deployed beyond the border of their states and cannot be federalized.