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10 National Guard benefits you might not know about

The Army National Guard is frequently misunderstood by the public. Is it a militia? Who does it answer to? What do they do besides fill...

(Photo by Spc. Matthew Burnett, 115 Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)

The Army National Guard is frequently misunderstood by the public. Is it a militia? Who does it answer to? What do they do besides fill sandbags for floods? Since 9/11, the Army National Guard has been called on to not only contribute to its state mission of humanitarian relief and civil security but has also deployed frequently. So if you’re thinking about joining the Army National Guard, here are 10 National Guard benefits you need to know.

1. Learn a trade

As a young person with no skills, it’s hard to make a living. Many supposed entry-level jobs require 1-2 years of prior experience, which can be tough to explain.

The Army National Guard will pay you while training you in a skill you can use in the civilian economy. Sure, infantry doesn’t have much civilian use, but mechanic, medic, or telecommunications jobs definitely do.

2. Gain access to affordable healthcare

Once you’re off of your parents’ healthcare, it can be tough to find something that’s affordable — especially when you’re first starting your career.

If you’re married and have a family, it can be even worse. But as a member of the National Guard, you are entitled to coverage under Tricare. For just yourself, Tricare costs less than $50 a month. For you and your family, it will cost just over $200. That’s almost unbeatable in the civilian world.

3. Have two careers

The National Guard can be difficult because you effectively have to balance two jobs. The National Guard will be your part-time job, and leadership understands that, but if you are ever activated for a real-world emergency or deployment, it will take priority. Luckily, your civilian job can’t punish or fire you for missing work due to military service. But the upside of this is that you can effectively have two careers, while most people only have one.

If you have a hard time deciding between two different, yet attractive, career paths, the National Guard allows you the opportunity to pursue them both. You can work your way up to college professor in your civilian life, while also living a double life as a Ranger-qualified airborne infantryman.

4. Get help paying for school

A popular National Guard benefit, getting your school paid. It can be difficult if you are already in college because you will have to take time off to go to basic training, advanced individual training, and you never know when you might be activated.

But once your initial training is done most of your time in the National Guard will be spent just doing one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer, allowing plenty of time for you to get that degree.

Benefits for students vary from state to state, but many states offer tuition waivers for National Guardsmen. Additionally, you will earn G.I. Bill benefits for National Guard service, and if you are ever federally activated, for example for a deployment, you will begin to earn the same G.I. Bill benefits that active duty soldiers earn.

5. Great networking opportunities

The National Guard can be a great way to network professionally. Since National Guard members serve in their home state and the vast majority have civilian careers, you can meet people who could be your “in” to a better opportunity in your civilian life. In the active military, units are comprised of people from all over the country (and sometimes world) and their full-time jobs are being in the military. But in the Guard, your commander might be the hiring manager at a Fortune 500 company that might have the perfect career opportunity for you.

6. Travel without moving

Maybe you have the urge to travel, but don’t want to fully commit to joining the active military and uprooting your life for years. A great National Guard benefit is that you don’t have to.

After enlisting and going to training, you will drill locally. Some people drill in the town where they live, and others have to commute as far as a couple of hours. It depends on the unit you join, but for the most part, your life stays relatively the same.

However, you will get to travel for basic training and advanced individual training. It’s certainly not a vacation, but if you’ve never left your home state, it’s an opportunity to see a new part of the United States.

Your annual training could be in another state or even another country.

You may also be activated for a deployment. National Guard soldiers are deployed around the world. Many know about deployments to Afghanistan or Iraq, but National Guard soldiers also deploy to places like Europe, where they are allowed to be tourists from time to time.

Joining the National Guard is not like backpacking around the world, but you never know where you might end up that you never expected.

7. Try out the military

One National Guard benefit is that you can effectively try out active military without going all-in.

Have you thought about joining the military but aren’t ready for the complete lifestyle change? The National Guard is a good way to get a taste of it.

If it turns out that military service isn’t for you, don’t worry! It’s not forever, and most of the time, you won’t even have to think about it. But if you do like it, you could go active duty after your commitment is up, or even transfer to another branch.

8. Skip endless years of drudgery

This is a good secret to those considering trying out the military in the National Guard. When you enlist in the Army, you start out at the bottom. Life in the active military as an E-1 to E-4 can be a struggle. You may get tasked with manual labor that you may not enjoy. In the active military, this could be your life, day-in, day-out, for years.  But in the National Guard, it’s only one weekend a month.

Even if it takes you four years to become a non-commissioned officer, that’s only 156 actual days of when you add up the one weekend a month and two weeks annually. For an active soldier, they had to live that life of sometimes misery for 356 days a year. In four years that’s over 1,400 days. Which type of service would you rather be a private in?

9. Serve with your friends and family

National Guard units are made up of the local community. It’s not uncommon for people to serve with members of their high school class, church group, or even family. Many brothers, fathers and sons serve together! It’s very rare for that to occur in the active military, but the National Guard knows that soldiers from the same community have another dimension to their esprit de corps.

10. Be a citizen-soldier

Only in the National Guard can you be a true citizen-soldier. The National Guard is the closest thing to the militias that fought to protect the early American colonists. That’s why the National Guard traces its birthdate back to December 13, 1636, when the Massachusetts Colony organized its militia. The National Guard is the one place where you can learn to be a proficient combat arms soldier in your spare time. It’s what Americans have been doing for centuries.

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