When I was an active duty Marine in the early nineties, I would look down upon the reserves. They weren’t real military. They were weekend warriors. They were nasty civilians that couldn’t hack the military and every once in a while they put on BDU’s and pretend to be soldiers.
A year after I left the active duty I found myself giving a Marine reserve unit out of Dallas, TX a try. I tested the waters for a year. At the end of it I left. I did not like the mentality of the people that had never been active duty. They fulfilled all of my expectations about being weekend warriors. I did not want to go to war with people like that.
Ten years later I was going to college and every morning I saw that even though the President announced Mission Accomplished there were still battles being fought. I put out a challenge to the Army, National Guard, and Marines, to get me paperwork. The National Guard was quick to respond. In a few days I was enlisted in the National Guard as infantry. A couple of months later I was flying with twenty-two other Guardsman as casualty backfills for units already in Iraq. I finished out the last half of the unit’s time in Iraq and came back stateside. I was then pulled from the line unit and placed in a training regiment as an infantry instructor. I’ve been there ever since.
Every year I train soldiers in a quick two week course on the basics of infantry skills. These soldiers are usually in their twenties and E4 and below. They are almost always National Guard. In my training I will take them out into a field area away from prying eyes. Once there I will explain a physical fitness competition. I’ve made a loop around hills and have soldiers run in teams competing against other teams. They must do buddy rushes, communicate their moving, and do so fast (as though you were being shot at) in full kit. It is probably over 200 meters and is a smoker. Especially since one team gets a three minute break and races a fresh team.
After everyone has raced twice, I’ll set them down and let them eat and relax for a while. Morale is usually pretty high at this point. People tend to join the military for a variety of reasons, but those that join the infantry usually want to do shit. They don’t want to sit in chairs watching power points. They want to test themselves against others. They want to move. They want to do something.
While they are eating I ask them if they, if we, the National Guard, are a reserve force. I get lots of nods.
WRONG!Now choke yourselves (an obvious reference to the much loved movie Full Metal Jacket). The Army Reserve is a reserve force for the Army. They are part of the Army. They are waiting for when the Army needs additional troops and then are called up. When was the last time you ever heard of the Army Reserve going to handle a local problem?
A long long time ago, before your parents’ parents’ parent’s were born, there were the Colonies on the east coast. The area had seen its fair share of fighting, whether the French-Indian war, or opposing British rule, or other uprisings. Many days things were good, but sometimes things went south and armed men were needed to protect people. These men were called Minute Men. They were farmers and businessmen, writers and cobblers, brewers and carpenters, and more. They were active citizens in their community and in a minute’s notice they would drop their duties at home, gather a musket, and form up in as a local militia to handle whatever threat had come up. These men, this militia, did not have the luxury of calling for someone else to come fix their problems. They did not have luxury to go to PREMOB for 3-6 months to get in shape to fight. They had to be ready at a moment’s notice.
Look at today. Sure, we wear a uniform that says U.S. Army or U.S. Air Force on it. But this is the mantle we wear, the common language and machinery we use to work effectively with other states with a unity of purpose. Imagine if each state had its own weapons testing system. Would Texas National Guard use Cold 45’s? Would Florida National Guard use the Blunderbuss? Would some states opt for F4 Phantoms, while others the F/A-18? Adopting the Army and Air Force doctrine and systems, allows for much greater cooperation and uniform systems. But this isn’t the core of our identity, it isn’t the soul of who we are. Our existence is not a reserve force for the Pentagon, though we’ve taken up that role. When I deployed to Iraq, I was immensely proud of the way my unit, A Co 2-162 IN, handled things. I’m quite honored to have served with such men.
No, the core of our identity is the Minutemen. We are citizen soldiers. We are members of our local communities. We are welders, painters, loggers, bankers, mechanics, college students, bartenders, doctors, farmers, pilots, and more. We are invested in the welfare of our community. We have settled down roots. We live and die in our state. When something occurs in our state that requires action, be it large scale flooding, forest fires, volcano eruption, or perhaps the unforeseen horrors of a zombie apocalypse or a Bieber concert, we are ready to be called upon by our Governor. If a river overflows its banks, a forest fire threatens a town, we don’t have the luxury of time to get ready. We are minutemen and should be able to drop what we are doing, assemble forces, and deploy to the the threat.
As my soldiers eat and listen to me, I tell them that by the end of this two weeks you will learn the importance of being physically ready for anything all the time. I despise the fact that we have what are known as diagnostic APFT’s. These are said to give one an idea of where they are at physically so that they can prepare for the real APFT the following month. I reject this idea. Call me a hardliner, but this line of thought breeds weakness in the mind and organization. It allows for the mistaken idea that we do not have to be ready at all times, that we can simply train up for a month or two to be combat effective or deployable. This is backwards thinking. This line of thinking states that our reason for existence is a reserve force for the Army. Again, we are not. We are citizens that are ever ready to respond to the call.
But I can hear you thinking. Why not just join the Army or Marines if you want to be military. Drop and give me twenty pushups. You don’t get it. We are citizens of our community. Marines are not. They live on a base. They are just that… Marines. Not so for us. We are part of our community at all levels. We are its lifeblood. We love our communities so much that we give up some of our free time in order to train together so that we will be more effective when we are needed. We cannot be fat bastards drawing monthly check. I’ve got no patience for those like that. Better they get out than drain our resources. Give me half a company of fit, agile, willing Soldiers over a full sized company where half are out of shape and only in it for the college money.
A couple of years ago the Army developed a program called Comprehensive Soldier Fitness. It was a simple premise based on Positive Psychology where we focus on core strengths of the individual. Those four dimensions of a strong, resilient Soldier are physical, spiritual, emotional, and social. Take a Soldier that is physically fit, has a sense of purpose and meaning, has an understanding of and ability to regulate their emotions, and is connected to a rich network of friends and family, this Soldier will be more resilient to many hardships that a Soldier may face. The Army, however, had decided that they wanted to place a special emphasis on Family. Though family ties are social in nature and not truly a separate dimension, the Army has treated it as its own dimension, placing special importance on the family as a source of strength for a soldier. This makes sense in the Army that we have today, where career Soldiers are likely to raise a family. But we are the Guard. We are families. We live in the same communities as our family, unlike the active duty branches where one will leave their hometowns. We work and live in our communities 90% of the time, raising kids, attending school, and more. We are invested in our communities and this means raising families. Is it any wonder that we are so willing to place ourselves in harm’s way for our communities, when they are made up of generations of our family? Simply put, you cannot separate the importance of family from the identity, the drive, the very purpose of what it means to be a guardsman. Families might be treated as a luxury in the Active Components, but they are a vital part of what makes the National Guard what it is.
So, get off your ass, grab a rucksack or a barbell, and train. You don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Best train today. Be ready. And give a thanks to your family as you grab your gear and go out the door. They are our reasons. They are our strength.