I am in the Colorado Army National Guard, and lately it has become clear to me that most people out there don’t have the slightest clue what that means. Some conversations I’ve had about it lately have initially offended me, but then I have to remind myself that a little over five years ago I was walking into a National Guard recruiting office to ask what it was myself.
So with that in mind, I thought I’d try my hand at explaining it to you all.
The National Guard consists of two branches, Air and Army. We go through the same basic training as the Active duty Air Force and Army, we go through the same job training as the active duties, and we hold all the same jobs our active duty counter parts.
National Guardsmen deploy on the exact same federal missions as the Active Duty and Reserves. Right now there are many Colorado Guardsmen deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, and there are CONG Guardsmen deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq. There are probably CONG Guardsmen deployed elsewhere as well, but I don’t know about them.
In addition to federal missions, the National Guard also deploys for state emergencies. Recent state missions for the CONG have included aiding the City of Alamosa with a water contamination, blizzard and tornado relief missions last year, Hurricane Katrina relief and forest fire relief the year before I joined (that’s part of what inspired me to join). Active duty and reservists do not respond to state emergencies. We are the first responders of the United States Military. One of our most famous first responses in recent history is the deployment of National Guard troops to airports throughout the nation after 9/11.
Most of the time, Guardsmen function like Reservists. We have duty one weekend a month, this is called drill. We also have a two week period of duty called Annual Training (AT). AT is traditionally conducted during the summer, though it can be done any time of year, and can even be broken up and done throughout the year in small bits. During drill and AT most units do training, although some units, like mine, work on real world missions.
Every state has it’s own National Guard. The commander in chief of the National Guard is the governor, not the president. If the president wants to use the National Guard for a federal mission, he must ask the governors of the states for their permission to use them. In essence, the governor lends us to the president. This asking is really just a formality, as I don’t think there has ever been a governor that has said no. Despite this, it is very important that the formality remain in place, because it is an important factor in maintaining sovereignty of state. Each state is entitled to its own militia in order to defend itself against the federal government should it become oppressive. Last year President Bush tried to bypass the asking permission step and make it so the National Guard could be pulled into federal service whenever the president decreed (as if he couldn’t get Guard troops any time he wanted them). Hey Bush, while we’re at it, why don’t we just create one giant, massive federal government and usurp all power from the individual states? Yeah, I’ll bet that’s something our founding fathers were down for.
The National Guard is arguably the oldest military force in the country. The farmers and town folk who first picked up arms against the British in the days of the American Revolution were, after all, the very first Citizen Soldiers. Those civilians who bore arms for our independence became the state militias, which eventually evolved into the National Guard as we know it today.
Here’s where it gets kind of confusing. Most of us are whats called Mday Guardsmen, which means we are only on duty when we have drill, AT or are deployed. Beyond that, most Guardsmen have civilian jobs that may or may not have anything to do with their job in the military (for example, there are dudes in the CONG’s Army Band who are cops, but there are also dudes in the band who are music teachers). Some of us, on the other hand, have full time jobs working for the Guard. Those people are either Active Guard Reserve (AGR), which means they get paid and benefits just like an Active Duty service member, or they are Technicians (that’s what I am) and I get paid on the Government Scale and am entitled to Government Scale benefits. Civilian employees of the government also get paid on the Government Scale. Although I am technically considered a civilian employee at my full time job at State Headquarters, I wear my uniform every day. Not even I understand why.
Anyway, everyone should get to know and love their local National Guard, because we do double the duty for you, our countrymen, on less budget than the federal troops get.
In short, the National Guard is
- Soldiers and Airmen, just like the active duty. We wear the same uniforms, do the same jobs and complete the same level of training.
- Troops used for federal missions, such as the War in Iraq and the War on Terrorism
- First responders for local, domestic disasters
- The oldest military force in the country
And, for the record, I am not exempt from deployments just because I am a single mother. The only way I can avoid a deployment is if I am pregnant or had a baby in the last 4 months. As a matter of fact, my unit just deployed to Iraq, and had they left just a week later, I would have gone with them. My son was just a week away from being 4 months old when they left. We were given a 60 day warning before this deployment.