So in the last couple of articles about the National Guard, we discussed Guard culture and addressed the question, “Who is the Guard?”. Today we are talking about that sometimes painful Regular Army transition to the Guard, why you should do it, and what to expect.
For one thing, the Guard does need you, your skills, and your experience. I know they are clannish, and they don’t want to admit they need you, but the truth remains that while the Guard’s primary mission is to support their State in a local emergency, they have little time to keep up the skills they need for their secondary mission, war.
There are several reasons for this and most of them are not even the Guard’s fault. They have 39 days under normal occasions to do all the stuff the Regular Army does in 365.
There is no possible way to achieve proficiency at anything under those circumstances. And the Guard has to do all the mandatory training tasks that the Regular Army does. If you think SHARP training and motorcycle safety cut into your training time in the Regular Army, try squeezing into 39 days while you are trying to do all the other stuff.
The Guard typically has one day a year when they try to kill you with PowerPoint presentations. So your bitching that they are doing it wrong gets under their skin. They know it, they don’t have time for better and you’re just making it worse.
And get this, the really good Guard units, those Soldier come in on their own time and on their own dime just to improve themselves, their equipment, and their training. How many active duty Soldiers do you know will show up for free after they put in a full day at their civilian job?
You cannot make them do it. They do it because they want to succeed. And most of the time when they interact with the Regular Army, all they hear is grief.
So they need you even if they don’t want to admit it. They need the experience that you bring in your MOS. They need the experience you bring in just being Army.
But they don’t like to talk about it. Why not? An E-4 with four years of active duty experience has more military experience and training than any E-4 in the Guard. A Regular Army E-4 has more on the job experience than most E-7s in the Guard if compared solely to military skill. It is not universal but there is a measurable disparity.
When it comes to promotion regulations in the Guard, it almost seems like they were set up by Oprah: ‘you are eligible for promotion, and you are eligible for promotion… everyone is eligible for promotion!’ Each State has its promotion regulation which you will need to learn.
All you have to do is meet the Time in Grade, Time in Service requirements or get a waiver from E-1 to E-4. And by the way, all Guard units are assigned slots with grade designations. There are no promotions unless they have a vacant slot that needs filling.
Promotion to E-5 requires two things, a board score, and everyone gets one, and a vacancy. If your unit has an opening for an E-5, and you have the most points in your geographic area, you win. I say geographic because typically you do not compete for promotions outside a 100-mile radius unless there are no options or you volunteered for it.
You are not competing Statewide unless you live in Rhode Island, where every unit is in the less than a 100-mile range. Regular Army Soldiers joining will normally have to wait a year to be eligible for promotion in the Guard. All you have to do is wait a year and bam you’re promoted… well not quite.
Promotions are regulated by vacancies. If there is no vacancy, there is no promotion. In some units, you have to wait for someone to die or retire before a vacancy opens up. But the real problem is that if you have alienated the unit, they will not announce a vacancy that will allow you to get promoted. They won’t fill it at all, or they will transfer someone back in, and there you are stuck because you ticked them off.
It’s not right, it is not regulation, but it still happens and if you are pushing, it will happen to you. Your knowledge that they need, is also a threat that they cannot ignore. You might frown on beer at the rifle range or annual training and they cannot have that. No, I am not joking. The 1SG took up a collection. That is another story.
Relationships in the Guard last a long time. It does not matter what the rules are, things can either be fixed or fouled up with a phone call from one Guardsman to another because they have known each other for 30 years. You can be in the Guard from 17 to 60 if you want that means lifelong relationships often in the same units.
Those shenanigans don’t happen much in the Regular Army, in the Guard, they happen all the time.
I know you don’t like it but you can fix it. However, to fix it, you have to be in a position to say something and have it stick. The majority of Prior Service to Guard enlistments are E-5 and below which means before you get the power to fix things, you have to adapt to the environment which you are in.
So you’re an E-5, hard-charging go-getter and now you have to either cool your heels or bounce against a wall of nepotism, cronyism, and clannishness that is stronger than Chobham armor.
If you have the patience and the will, you can be an invaluable part of the unit once they accept you. Do the tasks you are assigned and try and stick as close to their ways as you can.
When Guard units were rotating in and out of Iraq regularly, they listened to Prior Service Soldier’s advice. But if the advice disrupted the cohesion they already had, they chose cohesion and it is hard to blame them.
They have a vested interest in protecting what they have and they are not going to change on your say-so unless you have proven yourself one of them. You need to infiltrate your unit. Do what they ask and hold tight to your initiative.
Once they accept you, they will accept your experience. You will become one of them. And you won’t want to go back.
The Guard is a family. When you make that connection, you tend to keep it for life. You may know your Army buddy for a long time, but the Guard can give you an entire unit of family. That is why you should do it.