The beautiful & lonely life of the National Guard
The National Guard. Sometimes lovingly known as the Nasty Girls (same initials) by full-time branches. The National Guard is often the enigma of the military world, along with the branch specific reserves. The National Guard is governed by each state. We originated with the Guard in a different state and migrated to where we are now. That’s one of the perks about the guard is that you can transfer (where you want to go) pretty easily.
The main difference between the active duty army and the national guard is who controls us. Active duty military is a federal organization and is controlled by the president. The national guard is the state’s military and controlled by the governor of each state. The president can’t use the NG in any capacity without the governor’s permission. This is exactly how the Constitution intended it to be.
However, the life of a guardsman and their family is a lonely one. We are the outcasts. We are the bastard child of the military. Especially that of the full-time military. In all honesty, it can be a great life. It’s great and lonely, here are a few reasons why:
We don’t live (or even work) on post:
A post is the army version of a base. Because the guard is primarily part time we don’t get those on-post housing privileges. We do get the privilege of being able to shop on post/base and use many of their facilities. We just don’t get to live there. However, that means that it’s harder to find a tribe of like-minded families around. Many of the part time guardsmen must live within 50 miles of where their drills are located. Many have the ability to even live in another state as long as they make it to drill on time. That also means that they’re usually an hour away from any other military families. My family, for example, is 50 miles from one base, 75 miles from another base and a full 2.5 hours from the closest army post. That means that we don’t have that tight group of military families that we can align with. We may see other unit members and family members once a year at the mandatory fun days or barbecues, but often we are in a world all our own. This also means that our housing isn’t behind a gate and guys with guns. We are out in the public all the time. This does create a security risk for those of us who are off-post/off-base. We have to be extra careful with OPSEC and PERSEC. Being military isn’t always safe to announce anymore. Its’ taken my family literally years to find a tribe of like-minded family’s but only one other family is military out of our entire tribe. In reality, though, two military families out of 7 in a tribe aren’t bad odds.
There are full-time options in the national guard:
Working full time for the guard is just a deeper level of the enigma that surrounds the national guard. The main portion of the national guard is the “one weekend a month and two weeks a year” there has to be full-time components for the organization to function properly. Full time (AGR/ADOS) orders for the guard is the sweet spot and extremely hard to get! It does make it complicated trying to explain that you’re national guard but full time, but don’t live on post. Frankly, it’s exhausting and I find myself simply answering “oh we’re Army” simply because it’s easier on everyone!
We can’t always go to a post or base for medical care and it certainly isn’t free:
Tri-Care is the military provided healthcare. For active duty families, it’s 100% free and on post/base. For the guard, if you’re part time (also called M-Day or traditional) you have to pay out of pocket for your medical, vision, and dental. Yes, it’s much cheaper than Obamacare, but we still pay for the insurance and we still have to pay co-pays and what insurance won’t cover. We have a different section of tri-cate than active duty branches. If you happen to be on full time orders your medical and vision are free but dental is still taken out of your paycheck. All that being said, being a guard member doesn’t give us (the dependents) access to post/base medical facilities. We must go elsewhere or pay for the next tier of Tri-Care insurance which costs a bit more. Most families who are NG must see a civilian provider. This is actually a perk though because we have much more control over our care and how things are done, even though we pay a little more.
It’s harder to meet other military families whether you’re full time or part time:
Being part time in the guard means that through the normal work week the Guardsman (or woman obviously) has a full-time civilian job, but one weekend a month they have “drill” which they have to go to their duty station and do whatever their MOS dictates that they do. This means that while the guard families still deal with many of the frustrations that active duty families deal with (prolonged training, changed orders, deployment), they don’t often have that support system to stand with them. If the guard member happens to be full time, it matters where you live, in relation, to where your spouse works and that dictates how close you are to the other unit families. My husband worked a job 90 minutes away for a long time and I still rarely see the families of his co-workers. There is rarely a sense of community among guard families like there is with active duty, just based on the proximity of how close they live. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy remedy for this outside of Facebook groups (which have been a godsend). The perk here is that there is usually less drama than living and working in post. It’s just lonely at times when you can’t call up your civilian girlfriend and complain about the DEERS office and how slow their paperwork process is.
Frankly, we are all a little lonely:
We yearn for that support system that we always hear about from active duty spouses. We yearn for that candidness of washing uniforms with 759 pockets, and all the dammits around the house, and all the boots, and all of the gear lay outs that “must” be done, and the acronyms. The frustrations of insurance and pay and orders and logistics and not to mention that DEERS office. In a sense, it’s harder to be in the guard because we get to choose our path! That’s exactly the thing that it makes it more difficult also because the options are literally endless. There are often too many options to choose from.
We can feel like we are drowning in options:
Naturally, we just want to do what’s best for our families. Having a military boss and a civilian boss can be frustrating at times. While there are laws that protect military people from being fired if they get activated (for a deployment, drill weekend, or AT) or have drill that requires them to not work their normal hours. Not all civilian employers understand this concept or even want too. We just want to have a career that we’re passionate about and provide for our families, but because we can do this on the military side and/or the civilian side we often feel overwhelmed with possibilities, and not always in a good way. Communication again is the key here to balancing the civilian job with drill weekends. Those drill schedules come out at the beginning of each fiscal year. That MUST be communicated quickly and often. There are legal implications for civilian employers who fire military members for being ordered to go on deployment, and while that is always in the service members favor, it’s just a messy process that still leaves the service member without a job to come home too.
Wives or spouses often aren’t thought of as military spouses because we are “just guard”:
This one is possibly the most hurtful. Just because my husband is an M-Day solider or a “full-timer” doesn’t diminish my status as a military wife. My family has still done through deployments, pay issues, insurance issues, uniform issues and all the issues mentioned above. I might be “just a guard wife” in your mind, but I still love my soldier husband just the same and he gets deployed just the same. On a side note, calling a guard member a “weekend warrior” may be offensive to everything they have been through and accomplished in the guard. Please be mindful of that. Their status as M-Day or full time doesn’t dictate their resume or past experiences. The National Guard, as an organization, is much harder to be a part of than active duty because we have a huge civilian element in our family’s lives.
When you find that balance, it’s literally the best of both worlds:
There are times where we find that sweet spot of balance between the military drill schedule and the civilian work schedule. There are times when life perfectly balances and what we lack in military connections we make up for in fabulous civilian friends who may not fully understand, but they try. After all, we’re just a military spouse, trying to navigate two worlds when we really belong to neither. We aren’t fully civilian, but we aren’t full-time military either. And yet, we are fully and beautifully both! We are our own special brand of awesome. I’ve learned to embrace that uniqueness (over time and lots of tears). I’ve been told by my husband to not complain about something unless I have a solution to offer. Well, this is one of those times where I do have a solution, but putting it into action would take a lot of time and energy. The National Guard has the added complication of the distance that many would have to drive to attend an FRG meeting. Not to mention the unfortunate stigma that the FRG has in the first place. It would almost have to be a different group entirely for wives to be interested in coming. There also has to be an adequate level of communication from BOTH sides; the spouse and the organization. Each state is designed with a Family Program that can help with almost any issues that may arise as a spouse. Also, the service members readiness NCO is there for this purpose. The resources are often out there, we just have to find them.
You’ve probably heard of the stigma of officer wives fraternizing with enlisted wives; guard/reserve spouses are often looked at worse!
There are many active duty folks out there who don’t see national guard spouses on the same level as active duty spouses. It’s often followed by the shocking look in their eyes or them just telling you that you’re not a “real” army wife because you’re “only” national guard or reserve. As if our deployments magically don’t suck like theirs do. Seriously people. I will say that I’ve never experienced this myself, but have had many friends who’ve dealt with this. It’s heartbreaking when military spouses fight as much amongst themselves about what spouse is better than rally around each other in our own unique times of need.
I wouldn’t change anything:
Yep, I know, most of this post is pointing out the beauty and loneliness of the national guard, but I love the life we have. I love living in my little community (that we chose) and not having to deal with lock downs, commissary on pay day, ever changing orders and PCSing. We don’t have to deal with that! While we have our own set of circumstances we must navigate, I wouldn’t change them for the world. For this moment, we have found that balance that so many of us are on the path to obtaining. It has taken many years and many phone calls, emails, conversations, and knocking on doors until I found an answer that made sense, but it’s out there. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Sometimes, we need to be the squeaky wheel in order to get what our family’s need.
Through asking hundreds of National Guard spouses what their greatest frustrations, I’ve learned a lot. It’s been funny, sad, infuriating, and even heartbreaking reading some of the comments when I asked what was the most frustrating aspect of the national guard. What the main issues seem to be is the lack of an FRG, the distance from the families to the FRG, and communication by EVERYONE.
If you’re a guard spouse and have been shaking your head in agreement with this post I want to encourage you to be the squeaky wheel (in a good way) and think about starting a local group of military wives for support. Whether it’s through your FRG or not, it could benefit everyone. If your FRG is nonexistent, maybe YOU should try to get it going and make it not suck. If you’re looking for a more online approach maybe YOU should start an online state-specific national guard/reserve spouse group.
The options are out there if we want them. We just need to start doing the work to find them or make them. While it is the commands responsibility, they can’t fix something unless they know it’s broken.