Are Active Duty Soldiers Better than National Guard and Reserve Soldiers?

This debate has been around since…well, the Army.  The negative stigma and “bad blood”, if you will, between Active Duty Soldiers and National Guard Soldiers is legendary.  One trains one weekend a month, two weeks out of the year. The other trains all year. This basic difference sparks the debate: Are Active Duty Soldiers Better than National Guard and Reservists?

Well, in my opinion when you are talking NG and Reserves…it all depends on what State and Unit you are in whether or not Active Duty has any respect for you.  As an Officer in the 56th SBCT PAARNG, I have never received any negative flack from any Active Duty Officers…other than a slight joke every now and then for being a Guardsmen.  Most respect me on the fact that they recognize my “Keystone” and can relate to the experiences they know my unit has endured.

Despite what your opinion might be…when you go down range, you will both go where you’re told and you’ll fight where you go. This is something that has become more and more true since 9/11 and the National Guard has been activated more and more.  Now your gear and equipment may suck, but when adding up prior service Soldiers and leadership, plus incorporating civilian skills and thinking, I’d place the National Guard leadership, cohesion, and esprit d’corps on the same level, if not higher than the Active Army.

In fact, with specialized skills hard to find among full-time Active Army personnel, Guardsmen and Reservists possess unique abilities that will be useful in the complex military missions of the future.
In my experience, Active Duty units are full of professionals who view Soldiering as a profession such that they become careerist and are hesitant to make hard decisions in the interests of the men fearing that their next NCOER or OER might be a poor reflection. I do not see that as much in the National Guard.  Active Duty leaders are also rigid and are often incapable of dealing with change as well as their resilient counterparts.  Many military experts and leaders believe that National Guard and Reserve Soldiers are better suited to fulfill the complex, ever changing counter insurgency and stabilization type missions we face today.

As a Guardsmen I am obviously biased and feel that my dual skills as a Soldier, leader and engineer make me a better Soldier and leader in the Army…and vice versa.  Despite the arguments between Active Duty and the National Guard, to me it comes down to leadership and the willingness to think outside the box and make hard decisions. A lot of people look down on the Guard—I felt the fact that we all came from the same place enhances our pride and esprit d’corps. We looked out for each other. Whether you are a Reservist or Active Duty, making it home is the most important thing. Like they said in “Black Hawk Down”, the politics and the reason for why you are there all go out the window once that first shot is fired. You look out for your brother and you go home.

Final Thoughts

Let’s hear your opinions, but try to be civil. If you have comments or questions, you can post those below.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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33 thoughts on “Are Active Duty Soldiers Better than National Guard and Reserve Soldiers?”

  1. This is a few years too late… But I have to post it regardless.
    I was originally Active Duty and was part of 4th Brigade 2nd ID. As far as unit cohesion, Active Duty takes the cake. The claim that National Guard or Reserve units are more cohesive makes less sense when many major units on Active Duty during the war on terror have been in life cycles, so unless you go to Korea or Japan, or re-enlist and leave, you stay in the same unit. We had people with the same unit on Active for over a Decade because they didn’t re-enlist to leave. They chose to stay with the same unit. I was in the same unit for 4 years, and I was at the range every week at least once. We did weekly ruck marches, and we trained to fight every day. When you train like this, it becomes muscle memory. You can not duplicate that. However for jobs where the primary mission is sitting behind a desk, or turning a wrench, a civilian job may translate a little better.

    I left Active Duty and completed my first mistake with a Reserve unit out of California. Most of the unit was overweight, drank too much, and they argued often. I went to Chilis with other NCOs and our First Srgt and me and another NCO had to break up the 1st SGT and an E5 from fighting in the parking lot. It was race based, and they had been together in the unit for about 8 years. A lot of the unit were civilian police officers, and it didn’t matter. It didn’t transfer over. I then tried the National Guard, For my E6, and I stayed less than a year because the unit was motivated, but they were arrogant. A lot of profiles, a lot of people with rank that seemed to hide behind it, as if they put on a uniform so irregularly that they did not how to behave around others. It was a constant struggle.

    I left, attained a double bachelors in management and economics, worked for JB Hunt as a Fleet manager, then the California State Auditor, then the Albuquerque police department, and finally now the Veterans Affairs. I compare the training I received on Active Duty, and what I have learned since and I have to say, it doesn’t carry over. Sure I know how to manage, but its not the same as how you manage in the military. Its a different mindset, and a different mission. I know how to think critically, however I learned most of that in the military. College was easy because of the military and my drive. None of what I have learned would help me go back and be more “combat ready” You need the constant exposure until it becomes muscle memory. Marching under load, practice until your body becomes accustomed to it.

    I respect we all wore the uniform, but it is apples to oranges.

  2. No, I would put my old Tank Platoon and Cav Troop up against any acitve duty Tannk Platoon and or Cav Troop any day. The Guard trains aprox 39 days a year and is still held to the same standards as the active duty. For them to claim the Guard and or Reserve at not as capable is an arrogant remark. Yet those remarks are out there and perpetuated by leadership in the Active Component.

    1. Good comment, Joe.

      As I see it, there are good and bad units in both the ARNG and USAR.

      To say that ARNG or USAR Soldiers aren’t competent or aren’t soldiers just because they aren’t full-time Soldiers, is a bit offensive to me.

      I’ve deployed as an Active Duty Officer and ARNG Officer and I can promise that the ARNG can keep up with the Active Duty. What we lack in training, we make up for with maturity and initiative.

      Thanks for the comment. And thanks for your service.

  3. There has been a debate?? In the combat arms world I see a world of difference. NCOs in the guard are at level one tasks and skills. Discipline in the junior ranks has always been lacking. I spent eight years in the national guard and five now on active duty. In the infantry world and CAV scout world it's a difference of life and death.

    1. I’ve personally served in the some ARNG Infantry units that could run circles around the Active Duty guys. I’ve also experienced the opposite where some of the ARNG combat arms folks aren’t trained at all. It can vary significantly by the person and/or unit.

      1. Candace Ginestar

        Level one? ‘always’ been lacking? Really? You called my statements ridiculous on Facebook, now I will ask for you to evaluate what you just said and be honest with yourself if it does not deserve the same accusation that you threw my way. I beg for you to come, literally, to my backyard. I guarantee you will be proven wrong by the NCOs that I am lucky enough to know, call brothers, and esteem highly as grunts. Ones that were former 2d bat, or who just had ARNG experience and proved themselves overseas in actual sustained battles, trigger time, and things that I probably don’t need to explain to you. Keep your opinions if you want, they will only serve to debilitate you in the rest of your career, because we all end up serving alongside one another, and an active Army death does not mean more than an ARNG or USAR death.
        You don’t sugar coat, I respect that, and neither do I, especially when blanket statements about an entire organization are thrown out there as some kind of misinformed fact.

  4. Well, with 9 years, 3 months active duty and 15 years 1 month in the Guard, I can say this:I have more experience at my M.O.S. than anyone in my Guard unit. (and many of the guys on active duty…) We had way more unit cohesion in the Active Duty. My Guard 1SG does not know the difference between “at ease” and “stand at ease”.

    My Guard unit has way more pride in it’s aircraft and keeps them better maintained than anything I’ve ever seen on active duty. I get upset when I hear that we have to go “train up” before a deployment. On Active Duty, there was a phone call and we packed our shit and left. No special train up. We were expected to know our job.

    In the Guard they train everyone to do the job of gate guard and mine clearing prior to deployment, when we should be focused more on our actual mission. We preach “train as we fight”, but we never ever do. Things in theater are never anything like (or nearly as bad) as what we train to do. We are not gate guards. We are not combat engineers. We are not improving our mission accomplishment by training in urban combat tactics.

    Even in a downed aircraft situation, the crew is not going to attack and clear buildings. In the attempt to avoid more humiliating stories of “lost convoys” and “lack of proper equipment” we are now so over-trained prior to deployment that it’s hurting actual unit performance (and injuring some soldiers as well). Because of the last two things and the limitless supply of good ol’e boy politics and retribution, I wish I had stayed on active duty and retired.

    1. Candace Ginestar

      Clint, I am curious about your experiences since I spent 7 years in aviation before heading off in a new direction. My only deployment experience has been with that unit, and we had to do the ‘pre mob’…but they really didn’t make us do all the hardcore basic skill training. The OCs taught us some things they thought we should keep in mind, but they knew our main focus was flying, and they didn’t take up too much of our time with stuff they knew we would never do. They were realistic and honest with us, and it allowed us to focus on our mission.
      It doesn’t sound like you had been afforded the same opportunity…
      What made you leave active duty and come to the Guard? Do you regret your decision?

      I do agree from my previous experiences that Guard units (particularly, my old unit) really set the standard on maintaining their aircraft. I also noticed some interesting things in regard for ‘how to do business’ in the medevac world. We seemed to set a standard that active units ended up copying.

  5. As an Active Duty member who works extensively with the National Guard, I’ll put it this way. The National Guard personnel I have been working with have impressed me IMMENSELY.

    Now, the Reserves, not so much, I think we can all unanimously agree that they suck, but the National Guard has advantages that we can’t approach, such as being more selective with promotions, being more careful with their overall numbers, the ability to leave performers in positions they excell in for longer periods of time, and generally just having an older, more mature, more experienced work force.

    Personally, I love the NG to death. Their schools, specifically their RTS-M’s perform to a standard that most Active Duty schools WISH they could achieve.

    My hats off to you Guardsmen.

    1. I’m glad you had a great experience working with the National Guard, Michael.

      What made you dislike the Reserves? I would love to hear your input on that.

      Thanks for the comment.


      1. Thus far they just seem less organized, sloppier, less attentive to regulatory detail, and seem to suffer from systemic issues concerning institutional guidance and communication with supporting agencies.

        I’m not saying they are BAD per se, just that the NG have outperformed them in every way assessed thus far.

          1. Candace Ginestar

            Hi Mike!
            Chuck, Mike is an old friend of mine that I actually met initially on the AKO forums with a few other people, but we got to hang out in person when we were both deployed to JBB at the same time (what are the odds of that).
            So, he’s been a friend of mine for years now and I admit, I was the exception to his rule of ‘NG Sucks’, and it was nice to see him change his mind so drastically after he started working at Fort Lee (He is the person I was referring to in another comment I made).

  6. I personally believe that Active Duty Soldiers are “better” because they are working in their specialty full-time, whereas National Guard and Reserve Members only work on the weekends. Active Duty Soldiers are constantly training and working their specialties which makes them better equipped if we were to move into another war.
    Also, Active Duty Soldiers are considered more professional in several cases, because they are under higher standards, whereas the National Guard is more like a civilian workforce.

    1. Candace Ginestar

      I respectfully disagree with this. We all meet the same training requirements and standards, but the ARNG has less time to train for it. What higher standards are you referring to? I hold my Soldiers to the same standards that my active duty peers hold their Soldiers to. I just get less time with them, so it is more challenging. I 100% disagree with your statement that they have higher standards.

      I don’t think working full time in a specialty means you are necessarily better. There is a lot of room for complacency when you are doing the same things day in and out. A lot of my Soldiers are civilian truck drivers – this makes them very proficient when they show up for drill! There are a lot of other examples of job crossover from civilian to military and vice versa. A brigade operations SGM from my state was asked to work with active duty officers on designing the convoy routes in Iraq (he was the only enlisted, and only ARNG Soldier)…why do you think this happened? He was a FedEx driver for almost 20 years by that point, and his experiences were widely respected. The BC referred him to this committee, and he provided valuable insights that the active force did not even think about.
      It takes ALL of us to fight, and to make the Army better. No component is better than the other, we all have strengths and weaknesses.

      I encourage you to pick up a copy of The Devil’s Sandbox, by John Bruning, and read the entire thing. If that doesn’t change your mind about the ARNG being a professional organization and extremely proficient and ready to fight in wars alongside the active component, then I suppose you are beyond reach.

  7. Amy Skalicky

    Personally, I don’t think it’s a matter of Active Duty being better than the National Guard, largely because of the various points brought out in your article. There are signicant differences that make both valuable assets to this country. While I can see that Active Duty soldiers do have an edge on tactical and technical proficiency, the National Guard has a significant amount of solders who were once active duty, as well more servicemembers of a higher age. This brings experience to the table, which levels the playing field in a number of instances. Both the regular Army and the National Guard play important roles in the welfare of our country, both domestically and overseas, with the National Guard’s role becoming evermore critical. This increase in importance does not negate the significance of the regular Army’s role, it simply changes it. Roles for both have have changed, with the support provided by the National Guard playing a more vital role; however, we could not survive without either one.

  8. I would have to argue that Active Duty Soldiers are better Soldiers than ARNG and USAR Soldiers. The mere fact that they train 24/7 and do nothing but Army stuff all the time makes them the ideal fighting force. I’ve seen my share of ARNG and USAR Soldiers and most of them are old, fat, or career E-4s.

    1. Thanks for the comment, David.

      I’ve served with all three components and I would personally rather serve with the ARNG and USAR Soldiers than with an Active Duty team. My reasoning is:

      1. Older, more mature and life experienced Soldiers
      2. Most of the unit has served together 5+ years, making them more like a family
      3. Multiple skill on top of their MOS or branch (civilian experience)

      That’s my reasoning, but I do appreciate your comment.

    2. Candace Ginestar

      I invite David to pick up a copy of the same book I recommended to Mara, and read it from cover to cover. I also recommend that you not judge an entire organization based on a few people you have ran across. If I did that in my experiences working with the active component, I could have some pretty awful things to say, just like you did.

    3. As a retired flight medic with the NG (dust off) I can say that we as flight crew had more air time medical training and move experience over any RA unit I encountered in my 30 years in EMS. Our pilots flew for life fight, major airlines ect…… When we were not in uniform we were working Paramedic’s , Firefighters, and Crew chiefs worked in the aircraft field. so you talk 24/7. OK.

  9. I never considered the fact that part-time military service allows you the time to develop specialized skills in the civilian world. Those skills can be a huge asset, especially in the future. Think about the challenges we face today: Cyber warfare, nation building, cultural differences between tribal societies…It’s gonna take more than a good shot to fix these. But at the same time, if you had to go into combat tomorrow with a randomly selected soldier would you pick one from Active Duty or one from the Guard?

    1. Great comment.

      I would feel comfortable with a Guardsmen, Reservist or Active Duty Soldier. It really doesn’t matter. Both services have good and bad leaders/soldiers.

  10. I agree with Chuck that the active force is more technically and tactically proficient but since 9/11 I believe the Guard and Reserves have been the life blood of sustaining our combat operations, let me explain. Back in the late 80’s in order to save money we moved expensive assets to the Guard and Reserve with the understanding that we would only need them in a sustained fight. These included units like: MPs (now we have contracted gate guards), Laundry and Bath, Quartermaster Units, Ordnance Units, Physiological Operations, mortuary affairs, etc. While this may have saved money it made the active component incredibly dependent on the Guard and Reserve should we enter a sustained fight.

    Since 9/11 we have seen Guard and Reserve units deploying in some cases more often then their active duty counterparts. Gone is the weekend warrior. Patriots that serve in today’s Guard and Reserve sacrifice much in exchange for their service. I personally don’t care where you come from all I care about is that you have a can do attitude and dedication to do what’s right. Can’t thank the Guard and Reserves enough for their selfless performance of duty since 9/11.

    1. Thanks, Mark.

      The Guard and Reserves don’t always get a lot of credit from the Active Duty guys and gals, but I know that most of those units couldn’t do their mission without our support. Thanks for the kind words.


    2. Candace Ginestar

      It took my husband 12 years to finish his Bachelors Degree because he kept deploying so much, and for so long (no 6 month trips for him), as well as his response to state emergencies like Katrina.
      I think of all the people like him, who have sacrificed so much, and weren’t full time Soldiers who expected to be gone so much.

      The bottom line is, we ALL have the potential to bleed, and die, for our country – the enemy doesn’t care if we are ARNG, Reserves, or active duty. We should all stand together and we should all respect each other for our respective duties and responsibilities.

  11. Personally, I’ve served as both an Active Duty Officer and an Army National Guard Officer. While I do believe the Active Duty is much more “technically and tactically proficient” compared to their ARNG and USAR counterparts, I do believe the part-time Soldiers have a slight advantage. Why, you might ask? Let me explain.

    First and foremost, the Active Duty is a “young person’s game.” The average age in any Active Duty unit is definitely less than 25 years old. Compare that to the ARNG and the USAR, where the average age is closer to 40. This means the part-time Soldiers are older and have more life experience. While they might not be as “young” and “physically fit” as their Active counterparts, they make up for that with maturity and life experience.

    Additionally, part-time Soldiers have two sets of skills: their military skills and civilian skills. Look at any USAR or ARNG unit and you will find engineers, lawyers, accountants, entrepreneurs, plumbers and a variety of other professions. This means the unit is capable of many things outside of their “unit mission.” On the other hand, most Active Duty units have one set of skills: their Army training.

    Furthermore, many USAR and ARNG units are close knit; like a family. Lots of USAR/ARNG units have Soldiers who have served together in the same unit for 5, 10 and sometimes even 20 years. This forms a close knit brotherhood/sisterhood that is hard to match. Most Active Duty units have people constantly coming in and leaving, so even though they are trained and motivated, I don’t believe they have the same level of brotherhood as USAR and ARNG units.

    I’ve deployed to combat as an Army Officer in each type of unit. I felt just as safe with my ARNG peers as I did when I deployed with an Active Duty unit. At the end of the day, it’s hard to say that one is better than the other. But I can say there are both very unique.

    What are your thoughts?

    1. Katelyn Hensel

      I definitely didn’t know the age range was quite that large, or that Active Duty’s average age was so young. I guess it stands to reason though, many enter the service right from high school. How often do “part time soldiers” get called to perform in their unit?

      1. The age range is very different. For the most part, the Active Duty is a young person’s game. As an example, many Active Duty First Sergeants are in their late 30s, whereas most First Sergeants in the USAR and ARNG are in their late 40s or 50s. This is what I have seen from personal experience. Also, the average age per Soldier in any unit is significantly higher in the USAR and ARNG.

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