Several months ago, a man wrote an article for the SurvivalBlog detailing the ups and downs of being a prepper while serving on Active Duty. As a former Active Duty soldier I could appreciate what he was saying but more than anything else I found myself being thankful that I was now doing my prepping while serving in the National Guard.
Many preppers join the local volunteer fire department or rescue squad in order to learn valuable skills for free that could help in an emergency. They also do it so that they can learn skills that will help pull their communities through during tough times. I would like to propose that some of the readers who are of this mindset could gain much by joining the National Guard.
I have been in the Army seven years now. I started on Active Duty serving in Georgia, Germany, and Iraq. After three year I moved back home and joined the Guard. I am currently wrapping up a tour as the commander of a 170-soldier Military Police (MP) company. Like anything else, the Guard has its positives and negatives and I’d like to provide readers with both so that they can make an educated decision about what I think is a great opportunity. (Full disclosure: I like my job.)
First, the positives:
1. Job training. Hands down, from a survivalist mindset, this has to be the best thing that the Guard has to offer. The training for jobs in the Guard is the same as what you’d receive on Active Duty. The difference is, while it’s common for Active Duty soldiers to stay in the same carrier field for the duration of their career, Guardsmen often end up training in more than one field for a variety of reasons. I have soldiers who started out as mechanics who retrained as Military Police after a few years because there were more opportunities for career development in our MP focused unit. Likewise, in my unit we are authorized three medics up to the rank of Specialist [E4] (the fourth enlisted rank in the Army). When they decide that they want to pursue their Sergeant stripes, they will either go to another unit that has slots for a medic at the rank of Sergeant (there are two such units within 25 miles of us) or retrain as Military Police to pursue one of the many slots available in that field for the rank of Sergeant and beyond. The point is that the choice is theirs. How valuable would it be for you to train as a mechanic, infantrymen, medic, MP, or chemical specialist? It is not uncommon for some of my older soldiers to be formally schooled in up to three different Military Occupation Specialties (MOS).
2. Learn additional skills beyond your MOS. Every one of my soldiers has practiced putting in an IV, knows how and when to use a nasopharyngeal airway, and can perform a range of basic first aid tasks. Two of my soldiers have been school trained as armorers as an additional duty to their primary job. I put everyone on the range 2-3 times a year firing 9mm, 5.56mm, 7.62mm, .50 cal, 12 gauge, and 40mm. Our people know how to maintain and fire a variety of pistols, rifles, machine guns, shotguns, and other less common weapon systems. We practice navigating alone or in small groups cross country using a map and compass. We also train everyone on basic hand-to-hand combatives. Finally, our Military Police soldiers get trained on collapsible batons, OC, and soon, Tasers.
3. Continue to live where you want. One of the big complaints of preppers on Active Duty is having to move every few years. In the National Guard you choose your armory (presuming they have an open slot) and you can live anywhere that you like. In my state 90% of counties have at least one National Guard armory. As you go up in ranks you may have to go to another armory that has the slot that you want but you’re never forced to do so. If the openings don’t exist for your career track at your armory, you can always retrain into another field where the slots do exist.
4. Be a leader when trouble strikes. When society gets shaken you will likely be called upon to stabilize and sustain your city, state, or nation. Some would see this as a downside as they would prefer to hunker down when things get bad. I see it instead as a positive. Even as a mere mid level leader in the Guard I have the ability to make decisions that will help restore towns to a state of normalcy. This was proven to me when our company was charged with restoring law and order to a coastal Mississippi town in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. We fed people, stopped the looting, and gave the utility workers the support that they needed to restore basic services. Not only was it a rewarding experience, but it also pulled me into the survivalist community. I promised myself that my family would be prepared when disaster struck.
5. Local in focus, global in reach. Unlike the Reserves, National Guard soldiers serve at the direction of their state’s Governor. If this sounds odd to you, remember that before 1933 the National Guard Bureau was called the Militia Bureau. If you’re interested in helping in natural disasters, the Guard is the way to go. I’ve responded to tornados 30 miles North of my home as well as hurricanes 500 miles South. I’ve even conducted exercises in South America and Europe with the Guard. The President can always federalize a Guard unit, but at our core, we’re a state asset.
6. Learn even more skills outside the Army. The GI Bill and Tuition Assistance can help you go back to school for vocational, college, or post graduate training with little or no out of pocket expense.
7. Gain an extra paycheck. Not much more to say on this one. Live off your civilian job salary and you can just apply your Guard paycheck to paying off your house or any other debts that you have faster.
8. Gain full time employment. While the Guard is traditionally a part time force (usually one weekend a month, two weeks a year… though the War on Terror was stretched that), there are some full time jobs out there. Put in some time and prove yourself and you could serve full time from your hometown. Of particular interest to people who understand the threats that exist domestically are the Civil Support Teams (CST) that each state has that’s composed of Army and Air National Guardsmen. These are the first responders for just about everything that a terrorist might level against us here at the home front. All the soldiers in a CST serve full time and represent the best that we have for detecting and dealing with chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear threats.
9. The camaraderie of a group of like minded individuals. It’s good to know people in your community that you can count on in a pinch. Plus the Guard can be a good networking opportunity if you’re looking for employment in an emergency response field (police, fire, EMT, etc.).
And now, the negatives:
1. Overseas deployments. Sooner or later you’re probably going to go to Iraq or Afghanistan if you’re in the National Guard. If you have a family, this is definitely a negative. However, for some of you the experience that this brings would be invaluable in a survival situation. Just prepare your family to operate without you, preferably in conjunction with the support of trusted friends and neighbors. Know also that the Guard has really made headway since the wars started in providing dwell time to its soldiers. Current deployment cycles attempt to limit a unit to one deployment for every five years.
2. Some units in the Guard lack vision and don’t train hard. It pains me to say that but we must remember that the Army is a microcosm of the society it serves. Some leaders are no good and some units are lazy. My unit trains hard and the soldiers appreciate it. We take every opportunity to learn and grow. Not every unit is like that. If you join a unit that’s sub par, work to change it from the inside. If the culture of that unit is beyond your ability to fix, request transfer to another one.
3. If you’re thinking about joining the Guard now, you just missed some of the best enlistment bonuses in decades. Work closely with your local Guard recruiter (located at most Guard armories) and see if the field that you’re interested in still offers money up front to help kick your prepping into high gear. Not all the bonuses are gone but several of the bigger ones went away a few months ago.
4. Leaving your family during the height of an emergency. I alluded to earlier, but it’s worth repeating given the audience. It is all together possible that when your family needs you the most, you will get called away to help other people. This is a chance that we take along with our brethren first responders. Police, Fire Fighters, EMTs, Doctors, Nurses, and Guardsmen… if we hold to our oath then we’ve got to go where our community needs us in an emergency.
If you’re thinking about joining, grab a friend in the Guard and ask a lot of questions. It’s not a small step because it requires many years of commitment. I think it’s worth it, though. Hopefully this article has answered your questions regarding the Guard as means to serve your community and grow your personal skill set in preparation for a survival situation.