The small plane was flying where no plane was supposed to be – the president was in town that day. The pilot wasn’t answering radio calls from control towers. As the first beads of sweat appeared on his forehead, the air traffic controller picked up the secure-line phone in the tower.
Within minutes, two F-16 fighter jets from the Michigan Air National Guard were streaking through the sky. Moments later, they flew by and checked out the small plane, even firing off a few flares to gain the pilot’s undivided attention. The fighter jocks angled their planes up and watched from altitude as the other pilot quickly got the message and departed the secure area.
In the end, it was just a case of a small aircraft pilot who neglected to check his flight restrictions during a February visit by President George W. Bush to suburban Detroit. And it was another day on the job for the Michigan Air National Guard.
The role of the National Guard and the Reserves has changed dramatically over the last five years. Thousands of Reservists and Guardsmen have served in Iraq, Afghanistan or on duty in the U.S. The mission of the Guard and Reserve is as varied as a February day in Michigan and a summer in Iraq, but every part-time soldier, airman, sailor, Marine and Coast Guardsman plays an important role in the defense of this country.
Around the nation, military recruiters are on the lookout for men and women who would like to be a part of that role.
Generally speaking, the Guard and Reserve recruits men and women between the ages of 18 and 35. In some cases, people as young as 17 can sign up, with the approval of a parent or guardian. On the older end of the scale, exceptions are sometimes made for people who would be bringing a critical skill into the military, such as doctors or chaplains. Veterans who previously served often can re-enlist in the Guard or Reserve up to or sometimes beyond age 40.
As with making any major decision, there are both benefits and challenges to Guard and Reserve service.
Generally speaking, Guardsmen and Reservists serve one weekend a month and two weeks on active duty, generally in the summer, per year. Newcomers can normally expect some extended active duty training time the first year, to include basic training (also known as boot camp) and basic skill or technical training so you can do your new military jobs. Sometimes, basic training can be done one year and technical training the next.
Let’s take a look at the benefits:
We’ll assume that patriotism is a given, so we’ll focus on more tangible benefits.
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½Pay. A mid-level enlisted person, with six years of service, makes about $250 for a weekend – generally two eight-hour days at a local military base or Reserve center. The military provides lunch and, for those who live more than an hour or so drive away, overnight lodgings and breakfast and dinner. Sometimes you’ll eat in a chow hall, sometimes you’ll get a voucher for a local restaurant. Sometimes you’ll sleep in a local hotel, sometimes in a barracks room. Those who are local go home for the night.
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½Shopping privileges. For those who live near or do weekend drills on a military base, Guard and Reservists are able to use the commissary (the grocery store), the base exchange and other amenities – many bases have military-only low-cost golf courses or free movie theaters, for example. Commissary privileges are nothing to scoff at. Shoppers can save 30 percent or more on their grocery bill.
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½Retirement. After 20 years, you’ll qualify for a monthly pension. How big the pension is will depend on how many days you actually spent in uniform and your rank. One catch: You can retire after 20 years in the Reserve or Guard (counting any active duty time), but you can’t start to collect until after age 60.
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½Travel. This varies wildly by service branch and your job skill. An Army infantry unit may head to the same remote training ground year after year. A Navy public affairs specialist might spend his two weeks escorting VIPs on tours aboard aircraft carriers. Top performers can often find themselves in Washington D.C.; Europe; Hawaii or many other interesting locales. Sure, you’ll have to work while there, but how often does the government pay to send you to Hawaii for two weeks?
Of course, it isn’t all just a bed of roses.
Here’s what you will face.
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½Recall and mobilization. From the moment you swear in, you need to be aware that the phone could ring and you’ll be headed to where-ever the military needs you, up to and including the front lines of Iraq or Afghanistan. Some people volunteer for this duty. For others, it represents a serious hardship personally or professionally. Odds are, at some point in a 20-year career in the Guard or Reserves, you’ll spend some time on active duty – voluntarily or otherwise.
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½The juggling act. The day after you join the Guard or Reserve, you can rest assured that every family birthday party, anniversary or wedding will fall on your drill weekend. You can get excused for major events – your wedding, say, but probably not for your niece’s third birthday. Also, keep in mind that drilling one weekend a month means that, if you have a full-time job, there will be a two-week stretch every month where you don’t get a day off.
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½The juggling act, part II. You now have a second career, one that you’ll need to actively manage and work at. Remember, this is the federal government you’ll be dealing with, so there will be lots of paperwork and snafus you’ll need to deal with. It can be frustrating at times, but something every GI has to deal with.
That’s just for starters. You’ll also learn various career skills and meet new friends. And you’ll soon have a collection of sea stories to tell your friends and family.
For more information on joining a local Guard or Reserve unit, visit one or more of the following web sites: