National Guard soldier

6 Things You Should Consider Before Joining the National Guard

Part-time jobs often mean minimum wage and little chance of advancement. But that’s not the case with the National Guard.

Serving in the Guard is a one-weekend-a-month, two-weeks-a-year commitment and gets you a regular paycheck with great benefits. It’s a reserve component of the Army and Air Force, and you work alongside well-educated and motivated professionals who eventually become like family.

But as a four-year girlfriend of a National Guard Black Hawk pilot and a former editor for a National Guard publication, I know about the real Guard — the one that you might not hear about during a recruiting pitch. Before you consider joining, here’s what you need to know…

1. You won’t always have control over your life

A part-time, local commitment may sound good, but there’s always the chance you’ll be deployed. In January, my boyfriend was scheduled to go on a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan.

It would be our first deployment together as a couple, and I prepared myself to handle the challenges that would come from having him in a war zone — the stress, the loneliness, the sleepless nights. Just as I was feeling ready to handle this obstacle, his deployment orders were canceled.

I remembered being shocked, but mostly relieved, that plans like that could change. He wasn’t fazed. He knew what I hadn’t learned yet — that as a soldier you understand orders, rules and regulations are always subject to change, and there’s not much you can do about it.

The higher ups may decide to cancel drill one weekend (there goes your paycheck) or extend your deployment orders. Not letting this affect you emotionally and not getting pissed off when the government makes seemingly stupid decisions will be your ticket to having a much more enjoyable experience in the Guard.

2. You’ll get to serve in some of the coolest jobs…

I love seeing people go wide-eyed and slack-jawed when I tell them that I’m dating a helicopter pilot.

Not only does it give me pride to say that, but I love that he has a job that doesn’t keep him cooped up in an office. He gets to have adventure and excitement in his life, which so many 9-to-5 jobs lack. When he sends me breathtaking photos of the scenery while he’s out flying, I know that I could never ask him to give that up.

In the Guard, you can be anything from a policeman to a human resources specialist to an artilleryman (job description: Blow shit up). You have a choice in what job you choose, and you can have multiple jobs throughout your career. You will have the opportunity to do some really amazing stuff — the kind of stuff we dream of doing as kids, but lose sight of as we grow up.

3. …but finding a civilian job may be tough

Unlike active duty Army or Air Force, the Guard isn’t your full-time job. You’ll need to find civilian employment to back it up. And Guard duty can make finding steady civilian challenging.

Many employers are wary of hiring Guard soldiers since they know you may need to be out of work for duty. Of course, the federal government is making a huge effort to promote veteran hires, and some employers are very accommodating. It’s still something to consider.

On the flip side, the Guard will be providing valuable experience that you can apply toward a civilian job. You won’t find a better place to learn leadership skills than in the military. And so many civilian companies are hurting for good leaders and managers that once you do find employment, you’ll be able to stand out. Big time.

4. Your service will affect your family

At the start of my relationship, I was nervous about dating a soldier. After years of working at my magazine, I had heard firsthand accounts of the toll that serving takes on both the soldiers and their families. I know too many soldiers who’ve dealt with broken relationships or failed marriages, especially during long deployments.

I knew I couldn’t do that to him. So I made a commitment to support him in his service. And that commitment has been essential to us having a successful relationship.

Serving in the Guard will affect those around you, but as with any challenge, it can make you and your significant other stronger in the end. Also, the Guard provides more flexibility than almost any other military branch. You can live wherever you like (unlike active duty) and Guard soldiers typically deploy less. This can play a major role in keeping relationships strong.

5. You can’t beat the benefits

If you can find better perks for part-time work, I’d love to know where. From huge signing bonuses to heaps of tuition money for college, plus some pretty awesome retirement benefits, it truly can help you get on the right path financially.

Through the GI Bill and tuition assistance, you can easily get your college degree without spending a dime of your own money. Already have your degree? Then just pass along the benefits to your kids.

And how many jobs nowadays give bonuses of up to $20,000 cash just for signing up, plus a retirement benefits package if you stay for 20 years? Not bad at all.

6. The best reward is the personal satisfaction 

The most powerful reason why people join the Guard is the life-changing effect serving will have on your life. I’ve heard many soldiers say that they get more enjoyment from their Guard job than their civilian job. The National Guard is the only branch whose primary mission is to serve and protect the state and its community. So if a hurricane or tornado strikes, you will be on the ground helping those impacted, getting a paycheck for every day you work.

My boyfriend still talks about the incredible feeling he had when he flew his Black Hawk to deliver water to people who had been stranded by the flood that hit Tennessee in 2010. Many people search for a job that brings them meaning and purpose. People stop searching for that once they go to the Guard.

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