The National Guard is a reserve military force that is stationed in the United States. It is partly maintained by each state, while there is availability for federal use as well. Because each state is responsible for the development of this reserve resource, there are 54 separate organizations which compose the National Guard of the United States.
All 50 states have their own National Guard. The territories of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, and the District of Columbia have their own divisions as well. All members of the National Guard are also members of the U.S. militia.
Most people who serve in the National Guard work full-time in a civilian position, then serve part-time as a National Guard member. Here is a look at the pros and cons of this organization and the services it provides.
List of the Pros of the National Guard
1. It provides educational opportunities.
Individuals who are accepted into the National Guard receive an opportunity to pursue an education. Tuition assistance of up to 100% is offered within the organization. There are loan repayment programs available within the organization as well to help keep personal debt under control.
2. It offers access to the GI Bill.
With the GI Bill, either the Montgomery or the Post-9/11 options, there are tuition costs covered and a stipend given for books which makes it possible to pursue an education as well. These benefits extend to the family of the National Guard member as well. The benefits can also be used for work-study programs, certification reimbursement, national testing program costs, and apprenticeship training.
3. It offers job training benefits.
The National Guard is, in some ways, a vocational training organization. Although you must meet a qualification score to be eligible for certain benefits, you can choose specializations within several different career choices. They include police activities, medical services, aerospace and aviation, and engineering. There are currently more than 150 different jobs available to those who enlist in the Guard.
4. It provides opportunities for personal development.
To join the National Guard, members must be able to pass the basic training program implemented by the U.S. Armed Forces. That means each individual must show they can learn the basics of tactical thinking, weapons marksmanship, and general leadership skills. The program is designed to make each person dig deep within themselves to determine what is possible. These challenging circumstances encourage personal development on a daily basis.
5. It provides a paycheck.
When serving in the National Guard, you receive active duty pay during the initial period of basic training. You receive a paycheck during your job training portion and during the times you are deployed. Most individuals who enroll in this organization begin at the E-1 pay grade, which pays $1,639.24 per month. If you progress up the ranks, then higher pay categories are eventually awarded. An E-5 pay grade with over 6 years of experience earns $2,925.09 per month.
6. It is a part-time service opportunity.
After individuals complete their basic training requirements, serving in the National Guard means offering one weekend of service every month, then 2 full weeks of service in each 12-month period. Pay for this service is based on your current pay grade. Employers are required to give you the time off required to serve in this capacity, so you don’t need to worry about losing your full-time job.
7. It provides home stability.
When you join the National Guard, most units will provide you with up to 2 years of unit stabilization. That means you are guaranteed non-deployment during that time period unless an emergency situation were to be declared. For those pursuing an education, that 24-month period can be enough to complete a degree program without worrying about an extended tour of active duty
8. It is an option for active duty personnel.
Some active duty military members can opt for the National Guard as a way to fulfill an extended time obligation. Some may even qualify for an MSO reduction incentive, which offers a potential cut of 50% of remaining obligation time. This creates a win/win opportunity for everyone involved, as the military keeps someone who is highly trained within their ranks while you pursue the job or education you want.
9. It offers direct commissions to some individuals.
People who are highly qualified, especially in the medical or legal fields, may be able to apply for a direct commission through the direct appointment program. To be considered for a direct commission, you must have a 4-year degree or equivalent, be nominated for the program, and be selected for it by your Commanding Officer.
List of the Cons of the National Guard
1. It is a commitment which you generally cannot quit.
There is a time commitment associated with the National Guard. You are permitted to enlist for as few as 3 years, though this requires an additional commitment to the Individual Ready Reserve. Individuals in the IRR don’t train with a specific unit. They can, however, be called up to a unit if there is an emergency situation. The total enlistment period is for 8 years, when all IRR time is included.
2. It could require you to go into combat.
The National Guard is under a dual mission, serving state and federal needs simultaneously. Guard members could be mobilized to protect the interests of the United States in active combat. Overseas deployments are possible, especially during times of war. The Guard will train soldiers to ensure they are prepared and ready, both physically and mentally, should that situation occur.
3. It may require a lengthy deployment.
The Governor of a state can deploy the National Guard, just as the President is authorized to do so as well. For active-duty missions on the state level, most deployments are between 15-60 days to handle an emergency situation. If the deployment occurs on the federal level, then the time commitment may be as long as 12 months. In the Guard, soldiers can also choose to volunteer for an active duty assignment, such as the Border Patrol, and the length of that deployment type is highly variable.
4. It takes longer to receive promotions.
Tardy promotions occur frequently within the National Guard. Some officers have waited for more than 6 months to receive federal recognition of their new rank, even though they were already doing the work expected of their new position. That means man guardsmen and women are working in a grade that’s higher without the pay that is reflective of the position, without an ability to claim for back pay. 49% of those serving said they waited more than 196 days to receive recognition of a promotion.
5. It works on a smaller budget.
The National Guard works on a budget that is much smaller than the other U.S. armed forces. That can cause the quality of the equipment being used to be inferior to that of other units. There can be a lack of consistency in asset quality throughout each division as well. For some who serve, these challenges may make it difficult to achieve the results they wish to see during their time of service.
6. It does not provide certainty in deployment.
For most in the Guard, service means attending the drill at the armory which is closest to your current home town. If you are called into action, that means you’ll most likely serve within your home state somewhere. There is always the possibility, however, that you could be deployed to a different state during a state of emergency. You could be deployed to support active combat operations. Although you may only serve part-time, the commitment is a 24/7 status where you are on-call almost all the time.
7. There are eligibility requirements which must be met.
To serve in the National Guard, you must be between the ages of 17-35. You can participate in some entry-level work while still in high school, but you must be a junior or above, have your diploma, or a GED certificate. There are fitness standards to pass as well, including a minimum number of push-ups, sit-ups and a maximum time for a two-mile run.
These National Guard pros and cons offer individuals an opportunity to pursue an education or vocation that helps to establish a career. There are options to join the military in full. There is an option to serve a minimum amount of time, then be placed in the IRR. At the same time, there are some challenges to being in the Guard that provide uncertainty, especially in times of war or some type of emergency.
If you’re thinking about serving in the National Guard, you’ll want to speak with a recruiter about the possibilities which may be available to you. Visit the Guard’s home page to learn more or to have a recruiter contact you with specific answers.