The concept of the citizen-soldier is an appealing one for some Americans–the opportunity to serve your country in uniform while still keeping a civilian job and a life “at home” is one many are eager to explore.
Some aren’t sure about a full-time commitment to what Gen. Colin Powell referred to as “the profession of arms”, and National Guard service is (among many other things) an opportunity to explore military service without signing up for a full-time tour of duty.
Evolution Of The National Guard
Some believe the United States Army or the U.S. Navy can claim to be the oldest military branch in America, but it isn’t technically true.
There were militias and proto-Guard units within the original colonies and the Army claims to have the oldest of the first National Guard units, which include (according to Army.mil) a number of Massachusetts units, said to have origins in the original colonial militia regiments which were activated in 1636:
- 181st Infantry Regiment
- 101st Field Artillery Regiment
- 182nd Infantry Regiment
- 101st Engineer Battalion
The Militia Act of May 8, 1792 was passed to authorize militia units created prior to the law to “retain their customary privileges.” The Militia Act of 1903, the National Defense Act of 1916, and other federal laws added to this original legislation.
The Army National Guard and The Air National Guard
Not all branches of service have a National Guard component. The Army and Air Force do. The history and evolution of the Army Guard, as mentioned above, traces back to the beginnings of America itself.
The Air National Guard was brought into service thanks to a reorganization of U.S. military forces after World War Two; the nation was no longer on a full-time “hot war” footing and needed to restructure in order to keep up with changing times.
The National Security Act of 1947 established both the United States Air Force and the Air National Guard, which was added as a reserve component of USAF. Today the Air Force has both a Reserve and a National Guard option, the same as the U.S. Army.
Some of the earliest Air National Guard units were mobilized to support the Korean War in 1950. It would be the first in a long line of support for active duty forces across a variety of missions and causes in both in peacetime and in wartime.
Joining The Army National Guard
When joining the Army National Guard, one of the first questions a potential recruit is asked is whether or not the applicant has prior military service. Guard opportunities for prior-service military will depend on the local Guard unit’s staffing needs, mission requirements, and other variables. It’s best to talk to a recruiter about being a prior-service Guard applicant about the best career choices based on your geographic preference for service and other variables.
The reason we mention this is because some Guard unit requirements may vary depending on the state, and not all who serve in the Guard live in the same physical proximity to a Guard base or unit.
Joining The Army National Guard As A Prior Service Applicant
If you wish to serve as a prior-service military member, your general requirements include:
- The applicant must qualify for “non-regular retired pay” by age 60
- You must meet education standards for the MOS you want
- You must have a current DD 214, NGB22 or discharge order and have an approved DD Form 368 Conditional Release
- Must meet fitness standards
Those who are prior service but have a break in military service may be required to attend Basic Combat Training–at the time of this writing if you have a five year break in service or more this may apply to you. Those who have not served in a decade or longer are required to retake the ASVAB.
Joining The Army National Guard As A Currently Serving Soldier
Enlisted Army Soldiers and officers may, at the time of this writing, qualify for reductions in their current military contract “and up to two years of stabilization or more depending on the state you enlist in.
Officers who wish to join the Guard directly from active duty must have “no adverse actions” and are required to talk to a transition officer about how to transition from active service to Guard service.
Joining The Army National Guard As A New Recruit
Those who are NOT prior service must meet the following requirements:
- Be between the ages of 17 and 35
- Be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident
- Be at least a junior in high school, or have a high school diploma or a GED certificate
- Achieve a minimum score on the ASVAB test
- Meet medical, physical and moral requirements
These standards apply regardless of what state you wish to serve in, and additional standards may apply depending on state law, changes to recruiting practices, executive orders, etc.
Prior service military members will need to discuss the rank issue-what rank you will enter National Guard service in-with a Guard recruiter. These standards are subject to change, are adjusted due to updates or modifications in service regulations and may also be adjusted to meet changing mission requirements.
Those who opt to join the Army Guard right out of high school have the option to attend “split training”, which the Army Guard recruiting official site describes as a process where the recruit signs up after turning 17 years old and starting their Junior year of high school.
Those who take this path “…attend Basic Combat Training during the summer between your junior and senior years,” according to Army literature. Parental consent in writing is required.
Army Guard Time Commitments
Army Guard time commitments are generally described on the Army National Guard official site as being one weekend per month along with a two-week training period each year. “For most of the training weekends, you’ll be with us Saturday and Sunday only, though occasionally you’ll be asked to report for duty on a Friday night,” according to the Army.
Scheduled training described as “Annual Training” may require slightly longer times depending on the nature of your military job. Other considerations may apply, especially in times where the Governor of the state requires activation of Army Guard units.
Duration Of Commitment
Newcomers may enlist for as few as three years, “with an additional commitment to the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR)” according to the official site. IRR Soldiers are not required to perform training with a unit while in IRR status, but they may still be mobilized for an emergency.
Prior-service military members may be subject to different commitment requirements depending on current policy and other factors.
Joining The Air National Guard
Like the Army Guard, learning how to join the Air National Guard depends on whether or not you are a prior-service military member or whether you are coming into the Guard with no military experience.
Joining The Air National Guard As A New Recruit
In general, the requirements to join the Air National Guard without prior military service will include the following:
- Be between the ages of 17 and 39
- Be a legal resident of the USA
- Have a high school diploma or equivalency
- Pass a medical screening
Those who are still in high school and interested in National Guard service must be seniors in most cases.
Joining The Air National Guard As Prior Service Military
For those who wish to join the Air National Guard with prior military experience, the following general requirements will apply:
- Honorable Discharge from active duty service
- Must be a U.S. citizen
- Must have performed work in the Air Force Specialty Code the service member is re-entering military service with; this work must have taken place during the last enlistment served as active duty
- Must have an “adjusted age” of 39 or lower
The adjusted age issue may sound more complicated than it really is. To calculate your adjusted age, “take your chronological age and subtract actual time in service credit. The result will be your adjusted age,” according to the Air Force official site.
Prior service military members will need to discuss what rank may be awarded upon entry into Air National Guard service in-with an Air Guard recruiter.
These standards are subject to change, are adjusted due to updates or modifications in service regulations and may also be adjusted to meet changing mission requirements.
Joining The Air National Guard From Active Duty
The Air National Guard accepts currently serving military members under two programs. One is called Palace Front and is for people who want to transition directly out of active duty once their commitment ends and into a Guard unit. Another program, Palace Chase, is for those who want to transition into the Guard but have not yet fulfilled their entire active duty service commitment.
Once an active duty military member has completed half their commitment, they are welcome to apply for Palace Chase and begin the transition from active to Guard service assuming the applicant qualifies and the active duty chain of command permits the transfer.
Air National Guard Time Commitments
The Air National Guard official site declares, at the time of this writing, that ANG service is part-time, generally consisting of one weekend a month “and a few weeks a year, at a minimum”.
Guard units are called in for support in times of need by the Governor of the state. Other considerations may apply, especially in times where the Governor of the state requires activation of Army Guard units for natural disasters or other pressing needs.
Duration Of Commitment
Those who wish to join with no prior service will enter the Air National Guard People with an eight-year obligation, but the last two years of that obligation are in the IRR, and in that status do not train but are subject to recall. Prior service military members should ask a Guard recruiter about current enlistment policies for prior service military as these are subject to change based on mission requirements and other variables.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News