Should You Go Army National Guard or Army Reserves?

If you’ve decided you want to join the Army, but you don’t want to go Active Duty, I’d like to share some helpful tips on choosing between the Army National Guard and Army Reserves.  I have served in both services and enjoyed both the USAR and ARNG immensely.

Here are some of the major differences between the two:

Army National Guard

  • Primary purpose is to support state emergencies and serve as a contingency force for Federal Emergencies (and war)
  • The respective state’s governor is the “Commander in Chief” for their state’s ARNG units
  • The units within every state belong to the governor and can be activated by the governor at any time for state emergencies
  • They have operational and non-operational units and they have combat arms units such as Infantry Divisions, Stryker Brigades, M1 Tank Battalions, etc.  They also offer combat support, combat service support and other types of units
  • Traces its history back to 1636 as the militia, but took the name National Guard in 1903
  • It’s about twice the size of the Army Reserves (approximately 400k to 500k Soldiers)

Army Reserves

  • The Army Reserves is a Federal Reserve force of the US Army
  • Traces its history back to 1908
  • Only offers combat support, combat service support, peacekeeping, nation-building support and civil support capability
  • There are no combat arms units in the Army Reserves
  • It’s about half the size of the Army National Guard (205k Soldiers in 2010)

At the end of the day, you have to decide what is best for you.  Personally, I prefer the ARNG over the USAR because you can serve your state’s citizens, in addition to serving your country.  Whenever there is a flood, hurricane, tornado, riot, or any natural disaster, you might get activated and be one of the first respondents on the scene.  You can also get deployed to serve in combat overseas.  I think this gives you the best of both worlds.

I also like the fact that the ARNG has combat arms units.  Yes, you can be a combat arms officer or Soldier in the USAR, but you won’t find any combat arms units in the USAR.  If blowing up stuff, driving around tanks, and shooting artillery rounds downrange is what you want to do, I suggest the ARNG.

If you’re still unsure about whether to go Army Reserves or Army National Guard, I recommend you talk to a recruiter from each service.  Additionally, you should talk with Soldiers from each service to get additional information so you can make an educated decision.  And if you choose one and don’t like it, you can always transfer to the other service later in your career.  That is actually pretty common.

What are your thoughts?

Post your comments or questions below. Thank you.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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7 thoughts on “Should You Go Army National Guard or Army Reserves?”

  1. Our daughter is considering joining the military. Neither I nor my husband have ever served in the military, and we have so many questions. Rather than rely on the recruiters (that we have met with on a few occasions now) for information, we are trying to figure things out on our own. The information in this article was valuable, as have been many on your website. Thank you for sharing your expertise.

  2. Faith A. Coleman

    After reading your statistics and duties of the two postions it does seem like there isn’t nearly as much happening with the reserves, without many of the compelling reasons seen in the guard. Is pay the same, time committments to maintain training the same, potential for promotion the same? I have a brother who flew jets in the Air National Guard – this is off topic but I recall the almost daily training flights to the tune of tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars for their brief jaunts. I think people don’t really know what that costs. How about flying every other day?

    1. The USAR and ARNG have the same benefits, but different missions. Both have advantages and disadvantages. A lot depends upon your state and what opportunities are available too. I tell all soldiers to do their due diligence and to decide what they want to do, and then research the USAR and ARNG locally to see which one is the best fit for them.

  3. Hi MAJ Holmes –

    I have to make a minor correction to your article about the USAR. There are exactly 3 combat arms units in the USAR; 2 AH-64 Apache attack helicopter battalions (Ft. Knox, KY and Conroe, TX) and the 442nd infantry (made famous in WW2 for being Japanese-Americans with many MOH recipients – the unit is now out of Hawaii with Soldiers coming in from all of the Pacific to drill). The AH-64 is a combat-arms asset and kind of fits in with aviation, in general, being all three (combat, combat support, and combat service support).

    That being said, I would agree that the best chance for combat arms is Guard over the Reserves (I’ve been in both). Just thought I’d help a bit. By the way, your site is great – plain-spoken and straightforward. Keep it up!

    1. Brad,

      Thanks for the comment. I really do learn something new every day. There you have it folks, the USAR does have three combat arms unit as of 2013. I never knew that.

      Thanks for the update, Brad.


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