The National Guard: “Always ready, always there” For Potential Candidates
by Coraima Camacho
“Always ready, always there” is the Illinois Army National Guard’s motto. Despite many people confusing the National Guard for the reserves, dating back to 1636, the National Guard is the oldest armed force in America that serves both on a federal and state level. Therefore, it responds to both the President of the United States and the governor of its state. In fact, many other branches of the armed forces, such as the Marines and the Navy, have stemmed from the National Guard. The HoofBeat spoke with Staff Sergeant and recruiter Darrell Rachal about common misconceptions, the enlisting process, and why the National Guard could be a right fit for you.
The National Guard has a branch in almost every state, with the Illinois National Guard having over 50 armories across the state alone. They are in charge of aiding those in need during emergencies such as natural disasters and riots. Despite the common misconception that they are always deployed and away from home, National Guardsmen live, work, and go to schools in cities all across America. However, they are expected to be on call 24 hours a day and are warned to be alert in case the National Guard receives information regarding an upcoming event in need of assistance. For example, during the 2016 World Series, Rachal was told to report to a police station, on standby in case a riot were to occur when the Chicago Cubs won.
Several steps must be taken to enlist, beginning with filling out a contact form that will be provided to a Guard recruiter who will answer any pending questions someone may have, free of commitment. Next, potential candidates must take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) that will determine what jobs within the Guard they qualify for. Afterwards, they will confirm their Basic Combat Training ship date, chose their occupation, and take the enlistment oath. Prior to the ship date, Guardsmen will be required to attend the Recruit Sustainment Program (RSP) one weekend a month to prepare for Basic Training and classroom training, and learn Guard rules and structure. The final step is being shipped out for training for a period of 10 weeks.
Many people envision National Guardsmen as full time soldiers dress in uniform, ready to go into combat to fight terrorism. However, as a Citizen-Soldier, their priority is their home state. They live at home and are able to spend time with family and friends all while managing a “civilian job or going to school,” which is why nine out of ten times they are dressed business casual and going around schools such as Northside, clarifying misconceptions. Drills take place one weekend out of the month, along with an annual two-week training, consisting of physical and/or military job training.
Essentially, Guardsmen possess common jobs like everyone else and can choose from more than 150 jobs in diverse fields such as medicine, technology and communications that can help you gain an advantage in society. For example, someone interested in photojournalism would be deployed to provide soldiers with news and still receive a wage equal to that of someone in active duty. Career counselors are available to help people “break down” their top three career choices and ideal distance away from home, so everyone has a job tailored to their interests and needs. Additionally, the National Guard ensures that all jobs are protected at a federal level for people with second and/or part-time jobs. Those who enjoy being leaders in their community have the opportunity to become Officers or Warrant Officers, who are in charge of administering and executing plans in the field.
Those who meet the issued prerequisites are eligible for federal and state benefits such as grant programs, loan repayment programs, and tuition assistance. The Illinois National Guard Grant allows anyone meeting requirements to attend any Illinois state funded university or college with free tuition for up to four years. The requirements include having served for a full year, be a current Illinois National Guard member, and meet all college or university entrance requirements. The Student Loan Repayment Program offers to pay up to $50,000 in student loans to those with an existing student loan obligation at the time of enlistment in the Army National Guard. The Federal Tuition Assistance Program can be used to help cover tuition at any accredited public, private, or vocational school. Additionally, those enlisted are eligible to receive up to $13,212 in monthly increments, to help cover educational expenses while they attend college full-time or part-time, due to The Montgomery G.I. Bill Selected Reserve. They can also be awarded an extra $350 per month as a part of the Montgomery G.I. Bill “Kicker” program.
Typically when students hear about the National Guard they equate it to leaving behind their college education and becoming full time soldiers in combat. However, they offer many unique benefits that might appeal to someone and help them discover a side of them they never knew they had. So if you feel it is a good fit for you and want more information regarding the Illinois National Guard and the enlisting process, visit www.il.ngb.army.mil.