Serving in the National Guard & Reserve
Contributed by Alan Rohlfing
Full disclosure: I ‘grew up’ in the Reserve Component of the US Armed Forces. The Missouri National Guard, to be specific. It’s what helped shape me into who I am today and had a bearing on how I approached the various positions I held in the Army. And no surprise, it will be the lens through which I write the rest of this post. Consider me a fan of the National Guard and Reserve…
I’m not writing this because there’s a military draft on its way, or that we’re getting ready for an extended conflict in the Middle East…no, I’m writing on this particular subject because the reserve forces of these United States of America are so vital to our national defense that they deserve some attention every now and again.
What kind of forces are we talking about? It’s what some of us refer to as the Seven Seals: Army National Guard, Air National Guard, Army Reserve, Coast Guard Reserve, Navy Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, and Air Force Reserve. Some of these part-time forces have been around for quite a while (the oldest is the National Guard, closing in on 400 years), and armories have been a hub in many of our communities for decades. And while many of us are familiar with the similarities, I talk with folks all the time who are surprised when they discover the differences between those components of our military reserve.
Some of those differences are branch-specific; with Army forces, both Guard Soldiers and Army Reserve Soldiers train one weekend per month and two weeks every summer (but there may be opportunities to go on orders for extended periods). Both National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers can be called into full-time service to support Army missions (and not just for combat deployments). The primary distinction, though, is that National Guard Soldiers serve a dual mission…either a State’s Governor or the President of the United States can call up the National Guard, for state emergency duty or a federal mobilization. That’s just what the Army has to offer for potential Citizen-Soldiers…the other branches of service have their own ways of doing business, and their own opportunities. Just know that today, serving in the Guard & Reserve is so much more than one weekend a month & 2 weeks in the summer.
Way back in the mid-1980s, when I joined the local National Guard unit while I was going to college, it was a different fighting force than it is today. While we were proud of our ability to shoot, move, and communicate (yes, I was in a Field Artillery unit), at the local armory it seemed more about the camaraderie and sense of belonging than anything else. But that was pre-Desert Storm, and pre-Global War of Terror. During that decade after the first Gulf War, leading up to 9/11, it felt like our reserve forces were changing…more modern equipment for many of our units, more inclusion by our active duty counterparts. Less about being “in the rear with the gear,” if we were even called up at all. Today, many of our brothers and sisters in the National Guard & Reserve, like their counterparts on active duty, have multiple deployments under their belt while also playing a pivotal role in their local community.
Many of the challenges that traditional members of the reserve component face revolve around their civilian employment…either juggling their co-careers (military service and a civilian occupation) or finding that good civilian job in the first place. I’ve spoken with too many job-seekers over the last decade who feel they’ve dropped out of consideration for an open job when that employer finds out they serve in the Guard or Reserve. I’d like to think that it’s a rare occurrence, not just because it’s less than legal, but because it’s a bad business decision. Folks with military experience bring so much more to an employer’s workforce than those without; I always argue that it more than makes up for the time they may have to spend away on training or on a deployment.
Fortunately, for those that have a civilian job and get called away to serve, there’s USERRA, which is the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (esgr.mil/USERRA/What-is-USERRA). USERRA is a Federal law that establishes rights and responsibilities for uniformed Service members and their civilian employers. USERRA “protects the job rights of individuals who voluntarily or involuntarily leave employment positions to perform service in the uniformed Services, to include certain types of service in the National Disaster Medical System and the Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service.”
USERRA’s protections are intended to ensure that persons who serve or have served in the Armed Forces, Reserve, National Guard, or other uniformed Services: (1) are not disadvantaged in their civilian careers because of their service; (2) are promptly reemployed in their civilian jobs upon their return from duty; and (3) are not discriminated against in employment based on past, present, or future military service. Just as important, the law is intended to encourage non-career uniformed service so the United States can enjoy the protection of those Services, staffed by qualified people, while maintaining a balance with the needs of private and public employers who also depend on these same individuals. For more information on this Act and the agency that is its biggest cheerleader, check out Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), at esgr.mil. ESGR is a Department of Defense program established in 1972 “to promote cooperation and understanding between Reserve Component Service members and their civilian employers and to assist in the resolution of conflicts arising from an employee’s military commitment.”
I’m not a recruiter – never have been – but I maintain that it’s a great way to serve, if you’re qualified. And while, certainly, there are challenges with serving and maintaining a co-career in the Guard & Reserve, there are benefits, too. You might be eligible for G.I. Bill benefits, state-level tuition assistance to help pay for college, VA home loans to buy a house, and even health insurance. If you’ve separated from the Service & miss your time in uniform or know someone else that wants to serve, reach out to the local recruiter & see what’s on the table. With some of the Services, you’ll find over 100 different jobs you might be eligible for, from high-tech jobs to practical trade skills or vocations where you get to blow stuff up.
I thought I’d include some quick links here, just in case you want to make a connection (yes, a Military Connection). Keep in mind that these links may change, or the links might stay the same but the options for joining might be different based on the needs of that particular Service. Visit the Army National Guard at https://www.nationalguard.com/; the Air National Guard at https://www.goang.com/; the Army Reserve at https://www.goarmy.com/reserve.html; the Coast Guard Reserve at https://www.gocoastguard.com/reserve-careers; the Navy Reserve at https://www.navy.com/forward; the Marine Corps Reserve at https://www.marforres.marines.mil/; and the Air Force Reserve at https://afreserve.com/.
So, when you come across that ‘weekend warrior’ in your local community, I encourage you to see beyond the uniform. Sure, you can thank her or him for their service, or show your appreciation in other ways; but I hope you consider more consciously the challenges they face, even in times of peace and no deployments. Consider how they juggle the co-careers of military service and a civilian occupation, or how they’ll leave it all behind to deploy when necessary. And if you weren’t already, I hope you’re now a fan of the National Guard and Reserve, too.
Until next time…
Tuition Assistance Boost for Army National Guard
Changes to the Army National Guard’s Tuition Assistance program (TAP) now allow Army Guard members immediate access to benefits after they complete basic and Advanced Individual Training (AIT).They will no longer have to meet a time in service benchmark before using the benefit for undergraduate and graduate degrees.
Also eliminated is the requirement to complete 10 years of service to use Tuition Assistance to pursue a master’s degree. Instead, TA can be applied to a graduate program once the next step of schooling is completed.
For enlisted Soldiers, the Advanced Leaders Course must be completed, while officers need to complete the Captains Career Course. Warrant officers must complete the Warrant Officers Advanced Course to be eligible.
“We’re going to let it ride and see what kind of feedback we’re getting from soldiers and how many are in that situation,” said Ken Hardy, Chief of the Army Guard’s Education Services Branch. “We’ve got to see how big of an issue it is first. If it’s really a big problem, we may look at writing a policy to allow it and, if it’s a small problem, at least allowing some exceptions to policy for these unique cases.”
Regardless if Tuition Assistance is used for an undergraduate or graduate degree, Soldiers are still limited to 16 credit hours per year, said Hardy. That credit hour limit may be expanded in the future.
“That’s our next thing we want to look at and see if we can change the 16 credit hour cap,” Hardy said.
These changes were made to ensure Soldiers have easier access to education opportunities and the benefits they’ve earned.
“It’s always good to have as much access to your benefits as you can possibly have with few restrictions,” said Hardy.