HIGH REWARD, LOW RISK
January 14, 2021
MILITARY ACADEMY LIAISON OFFICERS
If you’re an Army officer transitioning out of Active Duty, or just thinking about it at this point, this article is for you.
I recently learned about this opportunity through a few friends and it’s a program that–in my opinion–allows for maximum flexibility while still providing you the opportunity to contribute in a way that can be meaningful and rewarding. This opportunity is called the Military Academy Liaison Officer (MALO) Program.
Fortunately for me, I was able to connect with both someone who is a senior leader in this organization and two officers who are both currently MALOs. From our conversations, I got the unique perspectives of some individuals who decided to leave active duty for whatever reason, but were appreciative to contribute in a different way.
Let’s dive into the MALO basics:
Straight from West Point’s website, a “Military Academy Liaison Officer Program was established in 1970 for the purpose of accessing Army Reserve Officers to function as community-based admissions officers supporting the United States Military Academy (USMA) and the Army’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship programs.”
More specifically, according to the MALO officers I spoke with, your job includes anything from administering a Candidate Fitness Assessment, to assisting high school students through the paperwork requirements of the application process, to interviewing applicants.
The number of authorized IRR (Individual Ready Reserve–if you don’t know what this is, click here for a previous post) positions within this program translates roughly to the amount of congressional districts there are, which is 435. That’s a significant amount of slots–and there’s no shortage of vacancies. According to my source, there are 100+ positions that are currently occupied. So there are plenty left to go around!
So if command and staff meetings, storyboards, and the grind have you down, don’t fear! There are a surprising number of ways that you can make a positive impact while simultaneously walking away from active duty. Just think—you too can persuade high school kids to sell their souls to Uncle Sam to only end up walking hundreds of hours on the area! Just kidding…kind of.
Onto the details: Here’s what you need to know!
As I interviewed these three officers, I had the opportunity to ask a lot of questions, learn about their background, and pick their brains. As always, I’ve kept everyone anonymous so people can speak with complete candor. Below I’m going to run through all of my questions and provide a consolidated answer to each question based on the three sets of responses I received. Fortunately, I was able to get three distinct perspectives–my hope is that this compilation of anecdotal knowledge is something that can be useful for you as you consider whether this is something you’d like to do!
How did you learn about the MALO opportunity?
While the MALO Program isn’t by any means a secret, I wouldn’t describe it as a well-known opportunity. One officer learned about it through a pamphlet in the mail, one learned about it through a West Point Facebook group, and the other learned about it through a family member. What I’ve noticed is there hasn’t always been a consistent emphasis on recruitment or education. It seems that this has definitely started to change in recent years, which is great. I think this can be partially attributed to the fact that this program is comprised of volunteers, so you just have to tailor your expectations appropriately. There are plenty of vacancies and I know there are a significant number of people who’d be interested in this option if they knew about it!
In which part of the Reserve Component do you currently work?
At a minimum, MALOs are IRR officers working in an authorized capacity, earning points. There are also MALO officers who are in the National Guard, Army Reserve, or IMA Program. Essentially, this position is meant for reserve component officers. If you’re in the National Guard and find that you’re interested in doing this program, you can! If you’re an IMA officer and you want to do this, you can! It’s not exclusively for IRR officers–that just happens to be the target population. If you are an officer in another part of the reserve component, you’d just be earning additional retirement points if you decided to also participate in the MALO Program.
How did you apply? Was the entire process pretty easy?
In short, the process is not difficult. Several years ago, when a couple of the officers transitioned into the program, the onboarding infrastructure wasn’t quite there yet. Now, the application process is much more robust and structured. There’s a significant amount of documentation required–in part because you’ll be working with minors. You’ll have to do a background check and submit over 20 documents. Additionally, when you are first accepted into the program, you’ll be put on orders attaching you to West Point Admissions. At that point you can begin all of the online/Zoom courses you need to complete before you can start working.
How does pay work?
As a “points only” IRR officer working as a MALO, you are NOT getting paid. This really is volunteer work–but only for the short term. If you meet the requirements, you WILL get paid later… in the form of retirement. Let me explain more.
I’m certainly not an expert on reserve component retirement, but I have a better understanding than the average person. In the reserve component, you earn “points” towards retirement. You must earn 50 points in a year for it to count as a “good year” towards retirement. If you don’t earn 50 points, that year doesn’t count towards your 20 year minimum to qualify for retirement. ALL reserve component soldiers (IRR, IMA, NG, RES) automatically earn 15 points just for being enrolled in the reserve component. National Guard and Reserve soldiers generally earn four points per drill weekend–each point equates to a four hour period of work. An IRR soldier working in a “points only” capacity will not be immediately compensated for their work in the way that National Guard or Reserve soldiers are. However, as MALO IRR officers are able to work and log their hours, they will earn points. As long as you earn 50 points during the year, you will earn a good retirement year. And YES, you CAN promote and retire from the IRR. If you want more details on this, check out my previous IRR post. But for this discussion, I want to focus primarily on the MALO Program.
Describe the work. What’s your impression of the organization?
According to a newer MALO, the work has been great so far: “I work with a retiree in my district who has been doing the MALO gig for a while. He is essentially my supervisor. He informs me of a candidate in the district and I will reach out to them to establish a relationship. The balance is easily maintained. I took on four candidates because I wanted to. You essentially choose how much you want to contribute. Other than some mandatory zoom training sessions (evenings/weekends), which were necessary to understand the job.”
According to another officer who’s been a MALO for over six years, “This work is great–I call the MALO program the best job in the Army.”
But wait…there’s more! Did I mention that there’s no obligation (it’s completely voluntary) and you set your own schedule? One officer explains the flexibility inherent to the program, “Did your life get busy? No worries, you don’t have to work with candidates if you don’t have the time! Can’t support the summer training? No problem, maybe next year you can come! Because we’re all volunteers, everyone’s there because they want to be, not because the Army is forcing them, so everyone pulls their own weight and is willing to help.” WOW. WHAT A CONCEPT. Every state’s program is ran a bit differently, but this is the type of flexibility you could experience.
Something else worth noting is that really, the most difficult part is getting started. Learning what it actually means to be a MALO, what your duties and responsibilities entail, and what’s expected will simply take time. According to one officer (not a USMA grad), the most difficult part was learning about the West Point application process and the USMA experience. Working with candidates can be extremely rewarding, especially those who are eager and motivated and put forth significant effort.
Your particular experience as a MALO will be heavily dependent on your state and congressional district. Every state handles the application process differently. “Some are well-oiled machines with a clear chain of command that works well, others are looser organizations that may experience a bit of dysfunction.”
Do you feel like there’s a good balance between your contributions and your ability to have life balance? Or do these responsibilities weigh on you or act as a burden in any way that might deter someone from becoming a MALO?
According to one officer, “I feel like I have perfect balance between what I do for the MALO program and my personal life since I’m 100% in control of how much time, effort, and energy I devote to this work.” Of course, there will always be some stressful times, responsibilities, and deadlines, but it is all completely doable. For anyone considering the MALO program, the idea is to start small, ease into it, and get a feel for what it’s all about, what’s expected, and what a realistic workload looks like for you.
What are some things you wish you would have known?
For one officer, promotions within the IRR were something he was unaware of for a few years. Now, he’s working to complete his professional military education (PME) requirements in order to get promoted. Looking back, he could’ve taken advantage of this opportunity much sooner if he’d known and could’ve been promoted years ago–which also will affect his retirement pay.
Another officer didn’t realize that the Army would automatically sign him up for SGLI upon his attachment to USMA. This wasn’t a huge deal–just something to be aware of that could cause some bureaucratic annoyance.
Understanding the relationship between active duty service and one’s VA disability benefits is another noteworthy concept to understand. I’ll do a separate post on this later, with the assistance of a few people who have direct experience with this.
Finally, something to be aware of is the amount of time required up front for zoom training sessions. It’s quite involved, but it’s necessary to understand the program and your role.
What type of person is a good fit for this assignment?
According to the officers I spoke with, this opportunity is a good fit for any officer interested in giving back and working with young people. It’s very manageable and allows you to keep your foot in the door with the Army.
One officer gave his take, “It’s all voluntary, and depending on your state leadership, it can be very self-directed, so having the desire to serve, coupled with the drive to be self-motivated are two important traits. For me, the MALO program is the perfect blend of the Army and civilian life, which is something to bear in mind for those who may join straight out of Active Duty.”
“This program allows for a huge amount of flexibility, camaraderie, work with young people and the ability to stay connected to the Army without all of the hassle and obligation of being ‘in’ the Army.”
What do you dislike most about it?
Speaking with these MALOs, there really were very few disadvantages. One MALO did describe one negative aspect of the program to me—ironically the source of the negativity is the active duty Army. You don’t say!
And here you have it: “My biggest ‘complaint’ having been so far removed from the regular Army now, is that I forget how sclerotic and bureaucratic the ‘real’ Army is. It’s quite frustrating when compared to how well even poorly-run private businesses operate. Thankfully, we don’t often have to grind ourselves into the gears of the regular Army.”
I’m literally cackling right now as I reread this. How ironic. Anyway, mooooving on.
Based on all of the information I gathered from these officers, this is a truly low-commitment opportunity to give back in a volunteer capacity, but also earn substantial benefits that can be taken advantage of later. Does all of this sound too good to be true? Fortunately for you… this is real!
This program appeals to me because you’re not “selling your soul” in any way or signing a contract. There’s no commitment or contractual obligation that may end up being incompatible or unsustainable with your life situation. The great thing about this is, if life gets too busy or you have other commitments that are a higher priority, you can scale your participation to the bare minimum you’re able to contribute, or you can gracefully decline to continue contributing at all–with no real negative outcomes! If you don’t earn a good year towards retirement, sure, it’s absolutely a loss, but there’s always next year. And there won’t be any sort of consequences in the way there would be if you didn’t show up for formation at a weekend drill in the National Guard.
If you think you may be interested, I’d suggest going through all of the documents and websites I listed below.