Why Is There Such a Discipline Problem in the Army National Guard?

One of my website visitors asked me a great question last week.  They asked me “why is there such a discipline problem in the Army National Guard and Army Reserves?”  I want to do my best today to answer that question.  I don’t expect you to agree with everything I say.  In fact, this is simply my opinion on the question.

First and foremost, every unit in the Army National Guard is different.  Some units are highly disciplined, while other units are slackers. Since ALL units are a direct reflection of their leader, you will have naturally have disciplined and undisciplined units.  I’ve found units where everyone is highly trained, highly motivated, and highly disciplined.  And I’ve been to units where ALL of the Soldiers would talk to a General Officer with their hand in their pockets.  Why does this happen?  Because leaders either enforce the Army standard and expect discipline from their team, or they don’t. 

Next, if you were to compare the National Guard or Army Reserves Soldiers with the Marines, or even with the Active Duty Army, there would be NO comparison when it comes to discipline.  Why?  Because our organization is different.  We do not eat, breathe, and sleep the Army 24/7.  We have civilian lives, jobs, families and many responsibilities OUTSIDE of the Army.  Does this make us worse? No.  We are just different.  So you can’t really compare apples to oranges.

I will admit that the overall discipline has diminished in the Army National Guard and Army Reserves over the past 10-20 years.  You can blame that on liberal government policies, lower standards for recruits, the politically correctness obsession, and the new “touchy-feely” Army.  At the unit level, we don’t really have much say about those things.  But we can control how we run our unit.  We can control our leadership style and our personal example.  We can control whether or not we enforce the Army Standards in our unit.

So, is there really a discipline problem in the Army National Guard?  In some units, the answer is YES.  But, I will be the first to admit that the Army National Guard and Army Reserves have done and EXCEPTIONAL job working as an OPERATIONAL FORCE since the Global War on Terrorism began.  We’ve proved time and time again that our Citizen Soldiers have what it takes to succeed in combat and peace-keeping operations.  We might not be as pretty, as experienced, in as good shape, or as disciplined as the Active Duty Army, but we always find ways to get the job done, and done right.  And to me, that is what matters most.

I would like to close this post with a challenge.  If discipline in your unit sucks, I challenge you to do something about it.  Start out by looking yourself in the mirror and making sure you are a good example for others to follow.  Once you do that, set a high standard and enforce it.  Your Soldiers will resist at first, but if you stick with it, your troops will eventually become disciplined warriors.  It might take a period of months, or even years, but units can change.  I don’t expect you to change the entire Army Reserves or National Guard.  Just do what you can at your level, whether it’s with five Soldiers or 5,000 Soldiers.

What are your thoughts about the discipline problem in the Army National Guard?  Leave a comment and let us know.

 

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17 thoughts on “Why Is There Such a Discipline Problem in the Army National Guard?”

  1. This is an interesting post, and I may be out of line a little bit here since I never went into a Guard or Reserve Unit when I got out of the service.

    I was active duty though, and I know what is supposed to happen.

    I am afraid though, that it is simply up to the leaders in charge and then to the individual soldiers whether they are lazy or not.

    The leaders have to be disciplined themselves first and then they have to demand it every weekend from the enlisted men. The enlisted men know what they have to do when they get there.

    What I keep going back to is simply the way I was raised. My dad was and is a disciplined man and was a service man. He talked to me about my gig line when I put on my dress clothes the whole time I was growing up.

    You simply choose to be disciplined. You live it every day if you are disciplined enough.

    If you are in a Guard or Reserve unit, you know what is expected of you when you leave home to go to your base. So do it. You can be called on anytime to go to active duty.

    Leaders have to address this when somebody is not doing something right, and brag on those who are doing it right. The leader should know to what degree to do both, either brag or address the mistake.

    The leader should never tolerate anything less than 100% though.

    Does anybody disagree with me on this? I wasn’t U.S. Army, but I do know what discipline is. I can see how discipline in the Guard and Reserves can falter since you don’t live it everyday.

    It is a choice. You don’t want to go into the real thing with a lazy attitude, so you can’t train with a lazy attitude either.

  2. I think the discipline problem within the Reserves and National Guard comes from the perception by its soldiers that they AREN\’T Active Duty. That somehow they don\’t have to adhere to the same standards because they are \’part-time\’ soldiers. This is a faulty way of thinking and it\’s up to their leader to instill that sense of pride in his soldiers that they wear the uniform just the same and represent and important and valued part of the armed forces.

  3. I have to pipe in the fact about looking in the mirror is spot on. If we start with ourselves, others will follow.

    I do believe that you could visit unit to unit and find big differences. It does depend on leadership. I have not noticed a huge discipline problem, I just think that many people assume that a guard or reserve unit should run in the same way as a full time unit. That will never happen.

    Great post with some great comments.

  4. Having been on both sides of this paradigm, (4 years USAR, 5 years RA, 4 years ROTC, 2 years USAR) I must admit I was at a loss when I received my platoon a year back. Yes, there is very much so a discipline issue in the Reserve components and yes there are many contributing factors for this leadership challenge.

    I agree, comparing a Reserve unit to an Active unit is out right ignorant (yet if you’ve lived the other side, hard not too). Challenge yourself to identify the root cause of the discipline issue in your unit. Once identified, assess your possible courses of action to correct or at the least better the behavioral pattern. And it will take time, a lot of time. The more support you have from your NCOs and fellow officers the faster it will go by, but this task is not impossible.

    Thanks for bringing this issue up; it is real and very much relevant.

    Please do share positive methods on how to tackle this issue; actual testaments of success.

    1. The best way to improve the discipline in your unit is to:

      1) Set a strong personal example
      2) Tell your Soldiers what you expect of them
      3) Hold Soldiers accountable when they fail to meet those standards
      4) Reward Soldiers when they meet or exceed the standards
      5) Provide feedback on a regular basis
      6) Get your NCOs on board to support you
      7) Have realistic expectations (we are not the Marines or Active Duty)

      That’s a good starting point.

      I don’t think your Soldiers should be robots by any means. But I do think the “Yes Sir” and “No Sir” are good. Saluting is mandatory. Standing at parade rest and attention is mandatory. Having soldiers be on time in the right uniform is expected. Insubordination is not tolerated. No first names between a superior and subordinate.

      Start with the basics and work from there.

      I hope that helps.

      1. I agree with Chuck’s list. It also depends on the type of unit you are in. Line units and other units that are attached to the line, compared to an aviation unit – you will find them operating differently. I left a unit where people called me by my first name and hated wearing headgear, to a unit where people stood at attention to address me and always said ma’am. It worked in both instances. We had a lot of warrant officers in my old unit, and a lot of NCOs, so the discipline issues were minimal.

  5. I think a different dynamic that Soldiers experience in the NG and AR and isn’t so in the Active Duty realm is the aspect of outside jobs. Think about it…in the Army you have one job…being a Soldier. Your superior is your superior and that is pretty much it. In the AR and NG I have known PFC’s to be just a Private in the Army but the boss of their 1SG who just started working at their prison. Couple that with the realization that your job is “part time” most people don’t take the rank seriously since they know Sunday it won’t mean anything. Not disagreeing that their isn’t an issue with enforcing the standards, I am just saying their are a ton of supporting scenarios that make it more difficult to do so than Active Duty…

      1. I agree, Chuck. I wouldn’t say outright that we have a “discipline” problem in the NG, but I would say that we have a discipline challenge. It is just a different dynamic that we deal with that AD leaders don’t have to experience. I would even go to say that AD has its own discipline issues with the younger generation of Soldiers their getting and Basic Training being “weaker” than ever before…but that’s a separate issue.

  6. Hi Chuck. I think there is a variance among all the branches, whether active or reserve component. I’ve seen more discipline in some Guard units vs. some of the active units. Sometimes, the disrespect given by active guys to those of us in the Guard is downright reprehensible and completely against the Army Values, and is nothing that I would experience from Soldiers I serve with here in Oregon.

    I think that because most of us have civilian careers apart from the military, a lot of us hone our discipline even more, because the civilian corporate world is a lot less forgiving of certain things than the military is. Not a blanket statement from either direction, I get that, but I’ve seen some pretty crappy things from Soldiers, period, and a lot of them were active duty.

    1. I agree that many AD Soldiers have a stigma towards ARNG and USAR Soldiers. I did when I was on Active Duty.

      I also think that every unit and every Soldier is different. Some are disciplined and others aren’t.

    2. Good insight, Candace. I agree with your point about Active Units and Reserve units across the board. I have seen some really ate up Active Duty units who lack any discipline and some NG units with the utmost example of discipline and respect. But, there is a trend Army wide with a lack of discipline. I do not think that it is a NG problem solely…it is an ARMY problem.

      1. I will say, that when I showed up to take my platoon, my first job as an officer – I left aviation and came to an infantry BCT. I was very impressed, everyone stood properly when addressing me and their NCOs, all the basics. That continues to this day, 3 years later. The discipline challenges come in different forms for my unit. Mostly, PT.

  7. I totally agree with you as far as a unit is only good as their leadership. I feel that my unit is a direct reflection of myself and I am a reflection of my Soldiers. If I am ate up then others believe that my unit is ate up and vice versa. It is important for me to keep myself squared away so I can actually be followed.

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