Here’s a job hunting tip: how about thinking outside the box? Today, we explore an unconventional career opportunity: joining the armed forces of our country. What is it like? Our contributing writer, Rachel Strong, gives us a peek into what the National Guard is all about. She is the extremely proud wife of a National Guard soldier.
Image by The National Guard
After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, all branches of the United States Armed Forces (Army, Air Force, National Guard, Army Reserve, Marines, Navy, and Coast Guard) saw a dramatic increase in recruitment. But over the subsequent years, military recruitment has dwindled to the point that the controversial stop-loss program was implemented.
Today, with hundreds of thousands of jobs lost or looking uncertain each month and the world looking more and more dangerous, military recruitment has taken another upswing — even in a time of war. A career in the military will not only offer a paycheck, but also specialized training and even college tuition money (or student loan program pay-off) through the G.I. Bill. One of the easiest ways to serve not only your country but also your community, and still keep your day job as long as you still have it, is through your state’s National Guard.
What Is The National Guard?
The National Guard is the longest-standing military force in the New World; it started in December, 1636. Today, every state has at least one standing citizen-soldier Army National Guard battalion, and many have more than one, along with an Air National Guard as well. The Guard has helped fight in every war, and has been called upon to protect national borders; to assist in fighting wild fires, hurricanes, and floods; and to aid in search-and-rescues.
About Basic Combat Training
After signing up for an eight-year commitment, citizen soldiers in any state’s National Guard program are shipped to one of the Army’s five sites for Basic Combat Training, or BCT (not “Boot Camp” — that’s with the Marines and Navy). There, the citizen is transformed into soldier. You’ll have to meet physical tests and requirements (in the form of push-ups, sit-ups, and a two-mile run) in order to pass BCT, and go through various weapons training, obstacle courses, and in-classroom training.
About Advanced Individual Training
Once trained as a soldier, the Guardsman will move on to the more specialized Advanced Individual Training (AIT): his or her “job” in the Guard. A Guardsman can specialize in any one of a variety of roles: he or she can become a religious chaplain, cook, intelligence officer, a musician in the Army band, a mechanic (both light and heavy vehicles) or anything in between!
How Much Do Soldiers Earn? Plus Perks of Joining The National Guard
So if you become a Guardsman, what’s in store for you?
1. You get active-duty non-combat pay starting at $1,400 a month (base).
During BCT and AIT, the soldier earns active-duty non-combat pay, which starts at $1,400 a month before additional allowances (such as family separation, housing, and clothing). While state taxes are withheld from a soldier’s active-duty pay, many states will exempt an active duty resident soldier from paying those taxes, making for a happy tax day (for more information, check your state’s tax code or speak with the local recruiter).
After a soldier returns from training, they return to their normal, civilian, lives: home, work, school, kids — only reporting for duty one weekend a month (earnings start at $175 for two days’ work) and two weeks in the summer (earning $1,300+). Unless called up to active duty by the state’s governor, a Guardsman will never have to use his or her combat or AIT skills except for the two-week refresher course in the summer… and to scare off any potential suitors for his or her daughter. Nothing says “Better keep your hands off her!” like meeting him at the front door in full combat uniform holding an M-16 combat rifle.
2. There’s a signing bonus.
Within 30 days of returning home after AIT, the Guardsman will find a nice deposit in the bank account: the first half of his or her signing bonus. Depending on the specialty chosen when the Guardsman enlisted, the signing bonus can be anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000: the amount depends on what specialties are required by the Army at the time. The second half is given on the Guardsman’s third anniversary.
3. Your college education and past student loan debts are covered.
Also, within 30 days of a soldier’s return or the one year anniversary of his or her enlistment date, whichever is sooner, the National Guard will begin paying for their college education (for up to four years of full-time college, up to about $5,000 a semester) and/or paying off previous student loan debts.
4. Your day job is protected.
While the soldier is required to leave work for initial training (six to nine months), deployment (up to a year), annual training (two weeks, usually in the summer), or weekend drills (about 36 hours), employers in the US are also required to hold positions open until the soldier returns. National Guard soldiers are guaranteed jobs when they return home. The Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) office on any military base is ready and able to defend a Guardsman’s job to the fullest extent of the law.
5. You get military discounts.
Other benefits of the National Guard include military discounts; many national and local companies still offer wonderful discounts for military personnel. Other perks include:
- the ability for the Guardsman and their dependents to use any base/fort/installation’s commissary and exchange (where food can be purchased at cost, plus a 5% restocking fee, while everything else is found at a greatly-reduced price)
- camaraderie and support for both soldier and family
- banquets and cookouts
- and the ever-fun “running around and playing soldier for a weekend, like when we were kids”.
6. Then there’s combat pay.
Especially in wartime, the risk of being deployed to a combat zone for a lengthy amount of time is real. However, there is a financial benefit for the soldier and the soldier’s family. With deployment comes extra training and extra drills, which are well-compensated. With deployment also comes combat pay. Many of these “combat areas” are also “tax exempt” areas, where federal and state income taxes will not apply, leaving more money in the pocket of the soldier, or those at home waiting for the soldier’s return.
Where To Go From Here?
While more and more people are leaving organized political parties and simply calling themselves “American”, I believe that being ready to defend your state and its constitution and being able to call your governor the commander-in-chief may be the most American thing anyone can do. More information can be found through this link or at your local recruiting office.