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The National Guard Isn’t Just a Reserve

On December 13th, 1636 — almost four centuries ago — the Massachusetts General Court issued the order to create a militia.

This was the first semblance of the United States National Guard.

A militia is a supplemental force, usually made up by civilians, to aid a regular army in times of distress. Able-bodied men from the ages of 16 to 60 stepped up to protect and defend Massachusetts Bay. They were without proper training or direction, at a time when America was controlled by the English Parliament.

Today, the National Guard has evolved into a fully organized military force.

The National Guard sect of the military is a bit of a mystery to most people. How is it different from Active Duty Army? Is it strictly a reserve force, or like a militia? Does it involve the same commitment as the other service branches?

Most importantly: What is the National Guard?

Joining up & Day-to-Day

Joining the National Guard is similar to joining Active Duty Army.

Enlistment periods can be as few as three years (not including Reserve time). After enlisting, individuals are shipped off to a 10-week Basic Combat Training course to become battle-ready.

Schooling time depends on an individual’s MOS (Military Occupational Specialty), because there are more than 150 different jobs available in the Guard. If they have prior college education or expertise, they can look into being commissioned as an Officer.

Once initial training is completed, Guard personnel will be required to train, or “drill”, one weekend out of every month, as well as a two-week period each year.

This is one of the main differences between the Guard and Active Duty Army.

Active service members in the Army have full-time jobs within the military, and live on base or nearby. The National Guard is more of a part-time commitment, as long as members have not been called to action. This allows them the time and flexibility to pursue a career or education outside the military.

However, it’s important to remember that it is possible to see combat in the National Guard.

In rare cases, members can be deployed overseas to support combat operations. However, it is most likely that they will remain in-state, or not deploy at all.


The Guard headed a massive rescue effort after Hurricane Katrina.


What purpose does it serve?

At a glance, the Guard doesn’t appear any different from the Army Reserve. Guard and Reserve soldiers both spend one weekend a month training, and can be called to active duty service in times of need.

The real difference is that the Guard serves both community and country.

The National Guard is the only military service that is directed by the federal and state government. This means that both the commander-in-chief and their governor have the right to call upon them.

While they can contribute to military efforts such as the War on Terrorism, they mostly provide relief in domestic emergencies, like floods and hurricanes. When Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana, the Guard responded en masse.

“By any measure, it was the fastest, most massive military response to any natural disaster that has ever happened,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, in an article reflecting on Katrina. Blum was the chief of the National Guard Bureau at the time, and oversaw the Guard response.

“Our response was the epitome of what the National Guard is and why it is a national treasure.”

And the Guard did respond fast. 3,000 members of the Louisiana National Guard were at-the-ready, and within 96 hours of the destruction, 30,000 more troops were sent to New Orleans. Others traveled to Mississippi and Alabama.

In addition to launching rescue missions, soldiers worked to deliver food and water to Katrina victims, as well as provide adequate shelter. Then, when the immediate danger had passed, they worked to rebuild a damaged community.

382 years of service

Being a part of something bigger, something important, something honorable — that’s the reason that many people join the military.

The National Guard gives its members a way to serve their country, while still maintaining other aspects of their lives, such as a civilian career or full-time education. It also fulfills an integral duty to our nation, with its soldiers ready to deploy at a moment’s notice.

As the Guard celebrates its birthday, we need to honor their selfless service in the same way that we do for Active Duty Army and other branches. Because of these brave men and women, we know that when disaster strikes near us, someone will always be there.

To learn more about the National Guard, visit:



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