What’s the National Guard?

national guard what do they do

The National Guard is one of the seven reserves components of the military. Out of all the branches of the U.S. military, the National Guard may be the most unique and the most misunderstood.

The National Guard’s history goes all the way back to colonial times, and for those thinking of joining the military, serving as a Guardsman is an attractive option.

What is the National Guard? To put it simply, it’s a special branch of the U.S. Armed Forces that serves both domestically and abroad. The National Guard has a dual state and federal mission, meaning governors and the president can call these unique soldiers into action at a moment’s notice.

In 2020, the National Guard played a considerable role in helping the U.S. respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, civil unrest, and natural disasters. Moreover, military experts predict the National Guard will continue to have an outsized role in the future.

Physical and mental toughness are obvious requirements to join the National Guard, but there are many more. According to the National Guard’s website, some of those requirements include medical, physical, age, and moral requirements.

Empire Resume will delve into the National Guard, letting you know about its long history, how you can join, and what Guardsmen actually do.

A Long and Rich History

Believe it or not, the National Guard is older than the U.S. Army.

The American colonies organized militias comprising citizen-soldiers to provide for common defense, and that’s how the Guard started. The National Guard’s birthday is December 13, 1636 – that’s when the Massachusetts colony created the American colonies’ first militia regiment.

These early colonial militias were used to defend against Native American tribes and other colonial powers in North America, such as the Spanish. The militias also provided security and structure for the early colonial settlements.

The militias served in some of the earliest battles of the American Revolutionary War, and many volunteer militias also served in the Civil War.

In 1903, the Militia Act began to transform the volunteer regiments into the more structured form of the National Guard that we know today.

Can You Join the National Guard?

national guard what do they do

Joining the National Guard isn’t for everyone. As we’ll explain, there’s a time commitment and a possibility you could be deployed overseas.

That being said, the official National Guard website lists the mandatory eligibility requirements as:

  • Be between the ages of 17 and 35 years old. The Guard experimented with a higher age limit of 42 but reverted to the lower limit in 2011.
  • Be a U.S. citizen and permanent resident.
  • Be at least a junior in high school, or have a high school diploma or G.E.D. certificate. Seventeen-year-old recruits need parental consent.
  • Achieve a minimum score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test (ASVAB).
  • Meet the physical, medical, and moral requirements.

In addition, recruits must be available for initial active-duty training and agree to participate in an initial tour of training that lasts 12 weeks.

Jobs Available in the National Guard

There are plenty of jobs available in the National Guard – 150 of them, to be exact. Recruiters match recruits with jobs that match their skills and aptitude in areas ranging from Infantry to Air Defense to engineering.

Recruiters also assign jobs based on the results of the ASVAB test, which is the most common military entrance test. A benefit of joining the National Guard is that many of the jobs you’ll do translate well into civilian careers and don’t require additional qualifications.

Some examples of National Guard jobs include:

  • Combat Arms/Ground Forces. These men and women serve as the Guard’s primary fighting force. Like active-duty soldiers, the Combats Arms force are trained in everything from combat patrols to rescue efforts.
  • STEM-Science. STEM Soldiers are trained in advanced science fields like weather patterns, radiological warfare, and explosive chemistry.
  • Medical. Guard medical specialists are trained to work with doctors, and their skills are valuable as combat medics and in responding to domestic natural disasters. Medical jobs in the Guard range from everything from operating room to dental work.

Those are just a few examples of National Guard jobs available. Other positions include engineers, intelligence officers, cybersecurity, and aviation.

What it’s Like to Serve in the National Guard

national guard what do they do

The National Guard is unique in that soldiers hold civilian jobs or attend college while maintaining their National Guard/military status part-time.

Basic training in the Guard (or boot camp) lasts about eight to 13 weeks. After basic training, soldiers receive in-depth training on their military occupational specialty (MOS), which will be their job in the Guard.

Usually, the total enlistment period in the National Guard is eight years. However, you can choose to serve as little as three to six years and then spend the remainder of the enlistment period in Individual Ready Reserve (IRR).

In the National Guard, you train (or drill) one paid weekend per month plus a two-week period every year. Annual training can sometimes run longer, though it depends on your MOS. If called into active duty, you’ll serve where and whenever needed.

Soldiers in the Guard can technically serve anywhere. For training, you’ll likely attend an armory closest to your hometown. If called into active duty, you’ll also most likely stay within your home state.

But that’s not always the case. National Guard soldiers are sometimes called into active duty to help in large-scale domestic emergencies, such as responding to disasters like Hurricane Katrina. It’s also possible Guard soldiers could be deployed overseas. Many members of the National Guard served in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past 20 years.

What Does the National Guard do?

national guard what do they do

The National Guard serves several functions, but its primary duty is to report to the governor of its state. The Guard has a dual state and federal mission, though, so soldiers can also be called into action by the U.S. president.

All U.S. states and territories have their own units of the Guard, and they all operate independently. According to USO, as of September 2020, there were more than 400,000 members of the National Guard.

While the Guard does many things, some primary responsibilities include:

  • Responding to natural disasters. The Guard is frequently called up to help fight natural disasters in their own states and nationwide. For example, the Guard was deployed throughout 2020 to fight historic wildfires in the Western U.S., as well as hurricanes, floods, and other disasters.
  • Supporting the military. Many may not know this, but the Guard plays a significant role in supporting the military overseas. More than one million members of the Guard have served in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars since 9/11. And the National Guard has been deployed in nearly every U.S. war since the Revolutionary War.
  • Domestic law enforcement. This is perhaps the most controversial use of the National Guard, which the American public has seen a lot of in the past two years. Both governors and the president can call the Guard into action for law enforcement purposes. For example, during the anti-racism protests of 2020, many states activated their Guard units.

2020 was a busy and historic year for the National Guard. Nearly 100,000 Guard members were deployed domestically in 2020, according to federal statistics, to respond to natural disasters, civil unrest, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The National Guard has played a significant role in helping during the pandemic. Guard members have delivered medical supplies, carried out virus testing, done contact tracing, and administered vaccines.

Benefits of Serving in the National Guard

national guard what do they do

Serving in the National Guard is a big commitment. But it comes with outstanding benefits, including, of course, serving your community and country.

Guard members earn a steady income and are paid twice a month, based on their occupational status and specialty. Unless you’re called into active duty, serving in the Guard is a part-time job, but it’s like having two careers at once.

You’ll also learn a valuable trade in the Guard that translates excellently to a civilian career. The National Guard will pay you while training you, and those skills can be hugely beneficial after your enlistment is up.

Other benefits of joining the National Guard include:

  • Access to healthcare. Guard members receive very affordable healthcare called Tricare, which costs less than $50 per month.
  • Tuition assistance. Benefits differ from state to state, but some states offer significant help in paying for college.
  • Networking opportunities. Most Guard members have civilian jobs, too, so serving is an excellent chance to network professionally.
  • A chance to try the military. If you’re hesitant about joining the active armed forces, joining the National Guard is an excellent way to try out the military part-time.
  • Be part of a rich history and legacy. As we mentioned, the National Guard is older than the U.S. Army and even America itself! Joining the Guard is a great way to give back to your community and country and be part of a long and storied tradition going back centuries.

Becoming a Citizen-Soldier

The National Guard is a unique part of the U.S. military and appealing to many people who want to join the armed forces part-time.

The Guard is the oldest military branch in America, and it allows people to become “citizen-soldiers” who serve their communities and the nation.

Joining the National Guard isn’t for everyone, but there are many attractive benefits to doing so. That being said, remember that serving in the Guard demands a substantial time commitment and there’s always the possibility you could be deployed overseas, even in a large-scale conflict.

The past two years have seen increasing use of the National Guard. It has been deployed for pandemic relief, combating natural disasters, and securing cities during protests and civil unrest.

The future of the National Guard may also call for increased use. Key military leaders have even advocated for creating a Space National Guard.

Dr. Phillip Gold is President/CEO of Empire Resume and has vast experience writing resumes for both professionals and servicemembers transitioning from the military into civilian roles. He served as a Captain in the U.S. Air Force and was responsible for leading nuclear missile security. Phillip is a Certified Professional Resume Writer and holds a BA in Communications from The Ohio State University, an MS in Instructional Technology, an MBA in Finance, and a PhD in Finance. 

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