Today, I would like to give my best shot and objectively discuss the pros and cons of serving in the National Guard. I spent six years of my life serving in the Army National Guard, so I hope my experience can provide some insights about what to expect.
Let me start by telling you that your experience will be what you make of it. You can either dwell on your time in, counting your days, or you can make the most of it.
Like anything in life, the National Guard is not perfect. It is a great organization, but it is far from perfect. There will be things you love about it, things you like, things you dislike and things you hate! Your attitude will have a big part in determining whether the overall experience is good or bad.
That being said, here are the pros and cons as I see it.
# 1 Serve your state and country – One of my favorite things about serving in the National Guard is that you can serve your state and country at the same time. Serving my country was great, but I really enjoyed serving my state and knowing that if there was some type of natural disaster or emergency, I would get to work closely with the local authorities and help.
# 2 Money for college – College is expensive. If you serve in the National Guard, there’s a good chance you can go to college for free. Between Tuition Assistance, scholarships and the G.I. Bill, there’s no reason to pay ANY money out of pocket for college.
# 3 Great part-time job – In the National Guard you get four days pay for two days work! It’s the best part-time job in the world as I see it, especially in today’s economy.
# 4 Learn a new skill – Another great thing about the National Guard is that you can get paid to learn a new skill. You can do something completely different than what you do on your day job. And the best part is that the National Guard will teach you the skill and pay you while you learn!
# 5 Travel – During my six years in the National Guard I got to visit Bulgaria, Macedonia, Kosovo, Hungary, and Germany, all on the government’s dime. Even if you don’t get to travel overseas, you will get opportunities to go to schools in different states, do TDYs in different locations and do annual trainings in different locations.
# 6 Meet new people – Another thing I enjoyed about my service in the National Guard was the people I met. I met people from every walk of life. While these folks were all very different, we all had a common bond. This was probably my favorite thing about serving in the military.
# 7 Benefits – The National Guard offers some great benefits to include medical, dental, great pay, college money, the opportunity for full time employment, PX and Commissary privileges and so much more. Try getting all of that with a regular part-time job!
Yes, there are MANY pros of serving in the National Guard. But, I feel I would be doing you an injustice if I didn’t at least cover some of the cons too. Like I mentioned earlier, nothing is perfect. Here are a few of the cons to serving in the National Guard as I see it.
# 1 Lots of unpaid time – This is without a doubt the major reason I decided to leave the National Guard. As a leader (E-5 and above) you are expected to do A LOT of things outside of drill weekend. In 95% or more of these cases, this will be unpaid work. As you move up through the ranks, this time commitment will increase significantly. For example, it’s not unusual to see leaders working 10-20 hours PER WEEK outside of drill weekend and not getting compensated for it.
# 2 Time away from home and family – Some people love this aspect of the National Guard, but I see it as a con. The National Guard is a big time commitment, much more than one weekend a month and two weeks a year. You will miss birthdays, anniversaries, special events with your kids, high school reunions and much more. If you have a successful civilian career, you will miss time during the year for your National Guard Training. This can definitely backfire against you when you are competing with others who don’t have this extra commitment.
# 3 Long commute to drill weekend – Some Soldiers live close to their unit armory. Other Soldiers have to drive 50, 100, even 200 or more miles every drill weekend. The distance you have to drive will be determined by your state, the military footprint, and your rank and MOS. I typically had to drive 50 to 100 miles every drill weekend. Some Soldiers I served with had to drive even further.
There you have it folks. These are the pros and cons of serving in the National Guard. At the end of the day, only YOU can decide what is best for you. Before you join the National Guard, do your due diligence so you know what to expect, and so you can make an informed decision.
What are your thoughts? What are the pros and cons of serving in the National Guard as you see it.? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts. I look forward to hearing from you.
Former Army Major (resigned)
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6 thoughts on “National Guard Pros and Cons”
I would just say make sure you know what you are getting into. Don't be snowed by what a recruiter or your buddy tells you about the National Guard. There are many Pro's including the one's listed in the blog, but you need to be honest with yourself.
Are you willing to make the commitment of the two days a month and two weeks a year at a minimum?
On top of that are you aware of the possibility of deployment, perhaps multiple deployments you could be a part of regardless of what your MOS is?
Make sure your family is on board with your decision.
If you have a family I would definitely recommending they are on board with your decision.
I think that all of these are very good reasons to join the National Guard, provided that you are able to meet the physical requirements. The costs of college (or even a good technical school) are exorbitant. Something has got to give. The National Guard (or other services) provide our young people with the opportunity to afford college (if that is the route they choose), job experience, and the chance to learn new skills. All of these are invaluable in today’s world.
The college money was a big part of my decision making process. I also like the idea of doing something cool one weekend a month and earning a nice wage for it.
Technically Pro #3 (4 days of pay) was mostly set to account for at least some of Con #1 (unpaid time). Or at least that is how they try to sell it to us….
Good point Daniel. I appreciate the comment. It’s a great deal for pay until you get a leadership rank with a bunch of responsibility and the time you invest gets way out of balance. As a young Soldier who can just show up and do nothing outside of drill weekend, it’s an amazing deal.