Joining the National GuardUpdated: March 28, 2022
The concept of the citizen-soldier is an appealing one for some Americans. Many are eager to explore the opportunity to serve our country in uniform while still keeping a civilian job and a life “at home.”
Some aren’t sure about a full-time commitment to what Gen. Colin Powell referred to as “the profession of arms,” and National Guard service is (among many other things) an opportunity to explore military service without signing up for a full-time tour of duty.
Evolution of the National Guard
The Department of Defense considers the Army, founded on June 14, 1775, to be the oldest branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, with the Navy following closely behind (founded in October of the same year).
Before that, there were militias and proto-Guard units within the original colonies. According to the Army website, the first militia unit formed in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1629. The first National Guard units, also from the Bay Colony and with origins in the original colonial militia regiments, activated in 1636:
- 101st Engineer Battalion
- 101st Field Artillery Regiment
- 181st Infantry Regiment
- 182nd Infantry Regiment
According to the National Guard website, the Militia Act of May 8, 1792, authorized militia units created before the law to “retain their customary privileges.” The Militia Act of 1903, the National Defense Act of 1916, and other federal laws include this provision.
The Army National Guard and the Air National Guard
Not all branches of service have a National Guard component. The Army and Air Force do. The history and evolution of the Army Guard, as mentioned above, traces back to the beginnings of America itself.
A reorganization of U.S. military forces after World War II led to the formation of the Air National Guard, according to the Army website.
The National Security Act of 1947 established both the United States Air Force and the Air National Guard, which was added as a reserve component of the USAF. Today, the Air Force has both a reserve and a National Guard option, the same as the U.S. Army.
Some of the earliest Air National Guard units were mobilized to support the Korean War in 1950. It would be the first in a long line of support for active-duty forces across a variety of missions and causes, both in peacetime and in wartime.
Joining the Army National Guard
The requirements for joining the Army National Guard are different for applicants with prior military service than those with none. Keep in mind that additional qualifications may apply and that these standards may change due to updates or adjustments to service regulations or mission requirements.
Guard opportunities for prior service members depend on the local Guard unit’s staffing needs, mission requirements, and other variables. It’s best to talk to a recruiter about being a prior-service Guard applicant about the best career choices based on your geographic preference for service and other variables.
Joining the Army National Guard as a Prior Service Applicant
If you wish to serve in the Army National Guard as a former service member, the requirements include:
- You must be able to complete 20 years of qualifying service before you turn age 60.
- You must meet education standards for the MOS you want
- You must have your current discharge order (such as DD 214 or NGB22), as well as an approved DD Form 368, Request for Conditional Release.
- You must meet physical and medical standards.
Prior service members with a break in military service may be required to attend basic combat training. They will likely not need to retake the ASVAB.
If you are a former service member, speak with a Guard recruiter about the rank you will have once you enter Guard service.
Joining the Army National Guard as a Currently Serving Soldier
Enlisted Army soldiers and officers may qualify for reductions in their current military contract and up to two years of stabilization, depending on the state they enlist in.
Officers who wish to join the Guard directly from active duty cannot have adverse administrative actions on their records. They can speak with a transition officer about how to transition from active service.
Joining the Army National Guard as a New Recruit
The National Guard website lists the following requirements for recruits without military experience:
- Be between the ages of 17 and 35
- Be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident
- Be at least a junior in high school, or have a high school diploma or a GED certificate
- Achieve a minimum score on the ASVAB test
- Meet medical, physical and moral requirements
Those who join the Army National Guard while they are still in high school participate in the split training option. They must be at least 17 years old, be a junior in high school, and have parental consent.
These young recruits complete their high school education while beginning their trainer. They complete basic combat training over the summer between their junior and senior years. Then they train one weekend a month while they complete their final year of high school and attend advanced individual training in the summer.
Army National Guard Time Commitments
Army National Guardsmen train one weekend each month, along with a two-week training period each year. For most training weekends, members report on Saturday and Sunday only but may occasionally report for Friday-night duty as well.
Keep in mind that when warranted, both the president of the United States and the state’s governor may activate the National Guard.
Duration of Commitment
When you enlist in the Army National Guard, you are committing to serve for eight years. You can also serve in the ANG for three or six years and serve in the Individual Ready Reserve for the rest of your commitment. You do not need to train with a unit as an IRR soldier, but you can still be mobilized for an emergency.
Prior service members may have different commitment requirements depending on current policy and other factors.
Joining the Air National Guard
The requirements for joining the Air National Guard depend on whether you are a prior service member, just as it does with Army National Guard.
Keep in mind that additional qualifications may apply and that these standards may change due to updates or adjustments to service regulations or mission requirements.
Joining the Air National Guard as Prior-Service Military
For those who wish to join the Air National Guard with prior military experience, the following requirements apply:
- You must have an honorable discharge from active-duty service. If you have a general discharge, you may be able to upgrade it by completing DD Form 293, Application for the Review of Discharge from the Armed Forces of the United States.
- You must be a U.S. citizen.
- You must be able to complete 20 years of service before you turn 60.
Other requirements, including passing a medical screening test and retaking the ASVAB may apply.
If you are a former service member, speak with an Air Guard recruiter about what rank you will receive upon entry into Air National Guard service.
Joining the Air National Guard from Active Duty
The Air National Guard accepts currently serving members of the Air Force under two programs. Palace Front is for those who want to transition directly out of active duty once their commitment ends and into a Guard unit.
Palace Chase is for those who want to transition into the Guard but have not yet fulfilled their active-duty service commitment to the Air Force. They can apply to the program once they have completed half their commitment.
Joining the Air National Guard as a New Recruit
- Aged 17-39
- Be a legal resident of the U.S.
- Have a high school diploma or equivalency
- Pass a medical screening test
- Pass the ASVAB
- Have a secondary school diploma or equivalency or be a senior in high school
Air National Guard Time Commitments
After basic and technical training, Air National Guardsmen work a minimum of one weekend each month pulse two weeks each year.
The president of the United States or the governor of the state may activate Guard units in for support in times of need.
Duration of Commitment
Those with no military experience who wish to join the Air National Guard with no prior service enter with a six-year obligation. Former service members should ask a Guard recruiter about current enlistment policies for prior service military, as these are subject to change based on mission requirements and other variables.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News