How to Transition from Active Duty to the Army National Guard

This is a post that needs to be written!  I’ve met countless Officers, NCOs and Soldiers who transitioned from the Active Duty Army to the Army National Guard and really struggled with it (including myself).  I thought it would be beneficial to talk about some of the things I struggled with during my transition and provide some helpful tips, so you can avoid the things I experienced.

I got off Active Duty in September 2003 as a 1LT, and went into the IRR until May 2005.  In May 2005, I joined the Maryland Army National Guard and hit the ground running!  I was very fortunate to go to a GREAT unit with a proud tradition and great leadership. Even though the unit was great, it was very different from my Active Duty units.

The biggest differences I noticed were:

  • Soldier Appearance and Physical Fitness
  • Discipline
  • Customs and Courtesies

Compared to my Active Duty units, Soldiers were much heavier and out of shape.  They typically didn’t stand at parade rest or attention when talking to a superior.  Soldiers often talked to their superiors like they were friends or family.  I could go on and on, but the point of the story is that it was a complete culture shock for me.

As time went on, I changed my perceptions and actually grew to love everything the ARNG stands for.  But, it didn’t happen overnight.

In the paragraphs below, I want to share a few tips on how to ensure a smooth transition.

# 1 Accept That The National Guard IS NOT Active Duty

There, I said it!  When you’ve been on Active Duty, you are used to doing certain things in a certain way.  And you therefore assume that the Active Duty way is the only way or best way of doing something.  Simply put, the Active Duty Army is ALL you know, so when you see things done differently in the ARNG you might just think it is a soup sandwich.  Many moons ago, I learned that there are a thousand ways to skin a cat (sorry cat lovers).  In other words, there is always more than one way of doing something.  And just because something is different does not make it wrong.  The quicker you can come to the realization and realize that the ARNG is VERY different from the Active Duty Army, the better off you will be.

# 2 Keep an Open Mind

This is so much easier said than done.  The older we get the more stubborn and thick headed we get.  Even still, you need to have an open mind about how the ARNG operates.  It is much like a family.  Although the ARNG follows many of the Army’s rules, the ARNG also has their own set of rules to follow.  AND they have their own traditions, customs and courtesies, and SOPs that can vary slightly from the Active Duty Army.  I suggest you EMBRACE the differences rather than knock them.  Learn everything you can about how the ARNG works, and don’t be too quick to judge it or knock it.  If you don’t have an open mind, you WILL NOT enjoy your transition from the Active Duty Army to the Army National Guard way of life.

# 3 Make Friends

Another great thing to do is make friends.  No, I’m not talking about being friends with the people you supervise.  But you should do what you can to make friends with some of your peers.  Take them out for a drink or out to dinner.  Get to know them.  Ask them your questions.  Introduce your family to theirs!  Whatever you do, don’t be a loner.  The sooner you can make some friends, the quicker you will start to enjoy the unit.

# 4 Get Involved

In addition to making friends with your peers, it would be in your best interest to get involved in the unit.  Find out about upcoming events the unit is supporting. Join the Family Readiness Group (with your spouse) and volunteer for training events or for events in the local community.  Go to the armory one day a month outside of drill weekend and get to know the AGR Staff and key leaders.

Final Thoughts

Everyone who transitions from the Active Duty Army to the Army National Guard goes through a transition period.  It’s perfectly normal.  Your key to success during your transition is to follow the advice mentioned above.  The sooner you can get to know the people in your unit, learn the new way of doing things, and embrace the culture, the better off you will be.  It might take 9 to 18 months to make the transition, but it’s well worth it.

And from personal experience I can tell you that I enjoyed my ARNG experience much more than my Active Duty Army experience.

I would love to hear from you.   What are your thoughts about how to transition from the Active Duty Army to the Army National Guard?  Leave a comment and let us know.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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3 thoughts on “How to Transition from Active Duty to the Army National Guard”

  1. I want to also add that I believe the last two tips you put are probably the most important ones to make the transition. Making friends can be the biggest key. Some people think friends will just “drop in their lap.” It takes movements by us to gain friendships of others. We need to talk to others and get to know them. That is where the last one comes in, by getting involved, we likely will find friends.

  2. As I have never faced this situation, I can absolutely understand the difficulty. One of the biggest obstacles for many human beings is accepting change. This is probably even larger for those who have been active military for quite some time. We learn strict guidelines and walking into a different atmosphere that is still military probably is a super shock.

    I would say that your advice here should be given to all active duty who are making the transition to National Guard.

    Great post sir.

  3. I don’t think soldiers realize the mental and emotional strength needed when transitioning from Active Duty. There is a sort of security being Active Duty, and when you leave to join the ARNG, you are more on your own. To avoid being overwhelmed by the differences, it’s important to follow the steps that you’ve suggested. Finding people to include in your life who share your experiences, share your fears can help in letting you know you are not alone and still have a support base.

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