I served on active duty in the Army for close to six years. During that time, I got to work with reservists from every branch, and soldiers and airmen from the National Guard. But since getting out, I’ve come to realize there was a lot I didn’t understand about the other components — especially when I tried to explain those components to civilians.
A friend of mine has said more than once that people seem to underestimate the National Guard; a client in a veterans’ mutual aid program I volunteer with has had benefits denied due to advocates not understanding the Active Guard Reserve time on his DD214.
It all inspired me to learn more, to clear up a couple of misconceptions so these service members get the credit they’re due.
Yes, they do deploy. Congress created the Medical Reserve Corps, the predecessor to the reserves, in 1908 in response to shortages of medical professionals and leaders during the Spanish-American War. The Navy and Marine Corps Reserves were founded to meet the demands of World War I; the Army and Air Force Reserves as we know them, with authorized retirement and drill pay, came to life after World War II, and played a big part in the Korean War.
And though the National Guard’s first responsibility is to its state, it has a long history of supporting overall war efforts. In fact, the Army Guard contains roughly 40% of the Army’s combat power, a reflection of its roots as state militias, says 1st Sgt. Charlie Elison, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 44th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, New Jersey Army National Guard.
“Army National Guard infantry units have been deployed to the frontlines since the Battle of Bunker Hill in Boston,” he said.
And that’s in addition to any state missions.
Senior Master Sgt. Craig Clapper, the public affairs superintendent for the District of Columbia Air National Guard, says his unit, the 113th Wing, answers more alert calls than all active units combined.
Reservists and guardsmen aren’t just weekend warriors. And they haven’t been in a long time.
“We’re not just going to summer camp and drinking beers once a year,” said Clapper.
Reservists and guardsmen get to attend the same training as their active-duty counterparts.
“And we don’t have to bother with staff duty,” Elison said. “Most civilian employers support the military training because they benefit. I might be away from the office, but I’ll bring back new skills.”
Both components benefit from their members bringing civilian education and experience to the fight; according to a 2014 demographics report published by the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Military Community and Family Policy), more enlisted reservists and guardsmen have a bachelor’s or advanced degree than enlisted active-duty service members.
Airmen from Clapper’s unit once got to use their knowledge to assist the Jamaican Defense Force when they built new facilities.
“They were HVAC or plumbers in their regular jobs, and got to use those skill sets to help the JDF.”
Members of the Active Guard Reserve earn benefits similar to those on active duty. It’s thanks to the AGR that, as Elison says, soldiers or airmen don’t have to spend time on staff duty or completing administrative tasks when they meet for drill — that work’s already been done. Members of the AGR receive their pay from the federal government, making them eligible for several Veterans Affairs benefits. The AGR isn’t open to new recruits, but to soldiers and airmen who have already met certain benchmarks. The sea services have similar programs, with similar benefits, though there are less ranks and military occupational specialties included.
I know there’s still a lot I don’t know about the other components and other branches. But every little bit learned helps me better understand and support my brothers- and sisters-in-arms.Read comments