Many Americans have wondered about serving their country in the armed forces and whether it’s the right choice to provide opportunity for invaluable experience in leadership and professional advancement as well as personal connections that will last a lifetime.
Many may consider joining the military to be the best decision they ever made in their lives, others may find that military life not suited to their needs and life choices which is why many people consider joining the Reserves and National Guard as a middle ground between full military life and being a civilian. However, there are many pros and cons of the National Guard to consider before you join. After all, only you can determine whether or not it’s right for you.
ACTIVE DUTY PROS & CONS
As an active duty soldier, you are an employee of the federal government and it’s, a full-time military commitment, with a fixed contract usually extending to four or six year increments.
Commitment. Some of the pros and of active duty is that you receive a secure paycheck twice a month or 30 days of leave per year, have access to all military benefits such as housing, tuition assistance, medical coverage, dental coverage, life insurance, legal assistance and much more active duty.
Members are also entitled a 20-year pension plan that allows you to retire after 20 years of service and receive a paycheck for the rest of your life.
Some of the cons of active duty is that it can be overwhelming for many career fields and cause hardship due to constant deployments or long working hours in active duty. You work full time and also frequently around the clock. This includes holidays birthdays and special events where you are not going to be present with your family or spouse.
You are essentially on-call 24/7. Even on your days off and can be recalled for any number of reasons, even if your leave active duty can also be difficult, because you are constantly being assigned to new bases every 46 years, which can be very difficult for those who want to settle down.
This can also be negative if you are in a stateside assignment, where you are typically assigned for a much longer duration compared to overseas assignments. Frequently active duty soldiers find themselves stuck at a stateside assignment for almost their entire career, while others may relocate numerous times to different countries overseas during a four year stint.
Often one finds that stateside service assignments may be preferable if one has a young family. Others may absolutely hate it or want to go overseas instead.
Keep in mind that your family will often take on the sacrifice of moving, whether stateside or overseas and this can profoundly impact school-aged children who have to say good bye to their friends and go through the awkward process of starting over at a new school.
For unmarried soldeirs, it is exciting to be moving to new assignments and each new base brought new experiences, friends and a chance to grow professionally.
THE RESERVES & NATIONAL GUARD
For those not ready or wanting to go all in full time for several years, there is service in the Reserves or National Guard. Both of these options give you more freedom to pursue another career or to continue going to school, while only having to serve on a part-time basis.
The cool thing about the Reserves and Guard, though, is that you will still receive military benefits and get paid during your weekend duty period. Of course, the pay and the benefits are not going to be the same as an active duty member but you will still reap many of the benefits of active duty service.
The main differences between the reserves and guard is the chain of command you fall under. The Reserves is a federal agency, which means you are still working under the federal government, receive federal funding and the same federal benefits as an active duty. Member, whereas the Guard is a state agency and is essentially considered a state militia. Guard service means that you are paid by the state and will not be completely covered to receive all federal benefits and entitlements.
If you are activated by the state under any state emergency in the Guard, you work for the governor of the state first and then the federal government second if you are activated to support the Reserves.
Life the Reserves, Guard service requires you to report to duty only one weekend per month and complete two weeks of annual training per year. There are also a couple different programs under each component which differ in scope. This is where we now discuss the pros and cons of Guard service in particular:
Pros of Serving In The Guard
One of the many benefits of the National Guard is paid job training. When you first sign up for any military service, you will take the ASVAB test. This test is an aptitude test that measures your strengths and weaknesses for specific fields. If you score well enough in certain fields, you might consider a job in that area.
Some fields include police and protection, technology, and even engineering, just to name a few. Also, the skills you learn in the National Guard transfer from the military to a civilian career.
This transfer of skills gives you a step up because you have hands-on experience that others may not have.
Local Leadership Development
The National Guard works with members to build leadership development strategies that reflect the goals of the service member and their local unit.
The Guard will provide you with professional development and an increase in responsibilities in your career. Because of this increased level of responsibility, your leadership skills sharpen.
You will learn how to work under pressure in the National Guard, and you will develop your critical thinking skills. In the civilian world, you will find you have the edge over the competition due to the professional and leadership development you gain in the National Guard.
Currently, many corporations struggle to find qualified individuals to fill leadership positions. Companies look in-depth at potential candidates to determine their potential to be leaders.
As a member of the National Guard, you are already a leader.
Education Benefits & Federal and State Tuition Assistance
The National Guard has several educational programs to help members.
Some members take advantage of the available scholarships or spouse education support. Also, there are generous programs that help pay for all your tuition- such as the traditional GI Bill available to those who sign up for a six-year commitment and are then able to receive a direct payment each month while in school.
Additionally, The Federal and State Tuition Assistance Program gives financial assistance to service members who are pursuing an education in their personal time. The Federal program gives members month payments to pay for college credits. Also, the State program is a little different. Each state funds its own program; therefore, each state is a little different.
In many cases, you can stack state and federal programs together to receive a tuition-free education.
Social Support and Networking In The Guard
Service members often refer to their unit as a second family. It is the building of these relationships that provide you with support and friendship.
Also, this level of social support lends itself to networking opportunities, as well. Also, when you serve in the National Guard, you meet a lot of people.
These contacts help you when you are looking or new opportunities in the civilian world and those who are veterans continue to enjoy the social support and networking opportunities that are available.
Meaningful Service to Community
The National Guard serves both the individual state as well as the nation.
Your local National Guard unit is composed of individuals in the community. Therefore, there is a sense of pride for not just serving the country, but by being a valued member of the community and surrounding areas.
Primarily, the National Guard supports the states during times of natural disasters or unrest, so you do not just serve your country; you serve your immediate community.
If you are a member of your community’s National Guard unit, you are an essential member of the public because your skills and leadership meet the needs of your community.
Cons of Joining the National Guard
For every pro, there is a con, right?
When making life-changing decisions, it is vital to explore potential negative consequences. By knowing the whole story, you are best able to make an informed decision that makes sense for your path in life.
Risk of Deployment
The National Guard is a part-time commitment, but there is the potential of deployment.
Often the National Guard responds during times of natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes.
Complex Work and Life Balance
Balancing work and life is a challenging task for many people.
However, if you are in the National Guard, you face another challenge with your scheduling.
Those in the National Guard attend training one weekend a month and two weeks out of the year.
This obligation leaves you to work around your training weekends when you want to schedule your downtime with family or friends.
Part-Time Work and Long Commitment
While many may view the part-time status as a pro for joining the National Guard, others do not agree. The part-time status can complicate life for scheduling and finding a balance in life, and the pay may seem low at first, although it grows over time.
The typical enlistment time is eight years, although you could serve as little as three years due to the ability of some to switch to Individual Ready Reserve (IRR). Therefore, this is a long commitment for part-time work.
The National Guard tends not to promote its members quickly compared to active duty. The slower promotions are due to the size and structure of the National Guard.
Simply, the National Guard does not need as many people to be promoted compared to their active-duty counterparts due to the fact the National Guard promotion board meets once a year, therefore, service members who make it on the promotion list are selected depending on vacancies in your area.
Training Time and Proficiency
The National Guard training is of high quality and is continuous and ongoing. However, many believe that despite ongoing training, the training is not enough to allow a service member to reach a high level of proficiency in their field before cycling back to monthly civilian status.
The great thing about the military is that it gives you varied tools and opportunities you need to be successful. There’s so many veteran programs out there that are designed to help you succeed. All that you have to do is go out there put in the work and execute on your plan. Good luck!
Last modified: December 18, 2020