The Mythology of the Weekend Warrior

In some circles, the National Guard has acquired the unfair stigma of producing “Weekend Warriors”. The common belief is that the Guard’s military commitment is limited to one weekend a month and two weeks out of the year.

Tee hee. It is to laugh.

In other words, Um, no.

That may or may not have been the case fifteen years ago. I wouldn’t know since I met my husband during wartime and virtually on the eve of his first deployment; a time when he was very active in the military. The fact of the matter is that these days, the commitment involves much, much more than that. And, quite frankly, that causes some problems.

Please allow me to elaborate.*

*Note that the following are from my own experiences and observations. I’m sure situations can differ widely, but you’ll at least get the drift of where I’ve gisted. (Ew).

1. Drill weekend is a sleepover.
The armory where my husband drills is a two and a half hour drive from where we live. This makes showing up for 0700 formation on Saturday morning rather difficult. T generally opts to go up Friday night in lieu of getting up at 0330 to make the long, sleepy, dark drive. It is also almost impossible for T to come home in the evenings once dismissed, so he needs to stay overnight.

2. A drill weekend is not just Saturday and Sunday.
My husband is an occifer, as I fondly refer to him, so drill weekend often starts, not with formation on Saturday at 0700, but with a leaders’ meeting at 1800 on Friday evening. T– like many members of the National Guard – holds a civilian job. He works in the world of finance, so most weekdays he sits behind a computer until 5:00 p.m.

Let’s review: T gets out of work at 5:00 p.m. It’s a two and a half hour drive to the armory. Leaders’ meeting starts at 1800.

If you do the math, you will find that it is logistically impossible for T to be at the armory in time for his meeting unless he gets out of work an hour and a half early.

Further, not all drill weekends are MUTA 4s (Saturday and Sunday). Some are MUTA 5s (starting Friday night, pushing the leaders meeting to Friday afternoon), some are MUTA 6s (starting Friday at 0700) and there is even the odd MUTA 8 thrown into the schedule (starting Thursday at 0700).

3. The armory is not equipped with barracks or housing.
T’s unit does not provide lodging for soldiers who travel great distances to drill (and there are some who come from further away than T). When they aren’t sleeping in the field, this leaves those soldiers two options: sleep on the concrete floor in the armory or get a hotel room.

EconoLodge logo

My husband, at the advanced age of thirty-nine, chooses to rest his creaky old bones in such luxurious accommodations such as the EconoLodge or the Super8. The cost of a hotel room in this area is approximately $70 per night, so T is essentially paying $140 to go to drill – about half of the salary he makes for being there. Factor in the price of the gas needed to get to and fro and the amount is even less.

4. Using civilian vacation time.
Civilian employers are required by law to give soldiers the time off needed to attend drills, Annual Training (AT), military schools or deployment. However, the manner in which they handle these leaves of absence is left largely up to the individual company or corporation. For example, while my husband has never been given any grief about being gone so often, his employer fully expects that T will use his vacation time towards these leaves until it is gone.

What this means for T (and for me) is that in a typical year, he uses his two weeks of vacation time during AT. (In a non-typical year it’s burned up in other ways.) The advantage is that during this time, T is “double-dipping”, as he calls it. In other words, he gets vacation pay and he gets paid by the military. The downside (which far outweighs the advantage, in my all-important opinion) is that AT is not summer camp. We’re not out sunning ourselves on the beach or rowing blissfully on a lake. It’s my husband’s second job. He works hard and he’s away from home.

Once his vacation time is gone, it’s gone, and we don’t get to spend any time off of work together.

And that just stinks.

5. Taking time to train.
I mentioned that the idea of “one weekend a month and two weeks a year” may have been a schedule conceived during peacetime. These days, National Guard units deploy regularly. Since 2006 my husband’s unit has served a 15-month stint in Iraq and a 12-month in Afghanistan. Those 27-months right there should be enough to debunk the myth of the weekend warrior. Should anyone need more convincing, let me make them aware that in the six months before my husband deployed in December of 2009, he was gone for nine of the 27 weeks. Nine. That’s about two additional months of missed work and missed wife.

6. Attending military schools.
Most soldiers in the Guard take their commitment very seriously. They strive for excellence and, in fact, some of them work twice as hard in order to prove their competence when stacked against active duty personnel. They fight hard to dispel the weekend warrior stereotype and to be taken seriously. They want to do well.

Doing well and advancing in the military often requires that the soldier attend different schools. These schools can last anywhere from a week to eight weeks or longer, tacking on even more time to the “one weekend a month” commitment.

So, what do you think? Have I dispelled the myth yet?

Maybe, but I’m just getting warmed up! Watch for numbers 7 -12 over the next few days.

How about you? Are you or is anyone you know in the Guard? What has your or their experience been?

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26 responses to “The Mythology of the Weekend Warrior

  1. THANK YOU. Seriously. I cannot say ‘Amen’ enough. People always seems shocked that, yes, the Guard deploys, and yes, it’s to the very same places as everyone else (I have been told, “Oh, well at least he’d be in a less dangerous place.”) And my husband has been gone a month and a half out of this year so far, and who knows what the rest of the year will bring.

    You rock for this!

    • Lol! Thanks! My husband has been gone for several weeks already this year, too, and there are a couple more coming up. I don’t mind him being gone so much, but I do mind watching him struggle to balance everything in his life.

  2. I have many family members who are, and like almost every guy I went to school with is as well! And each one’s experience is SO different.

    My one cousin is a medic in the guard, and I have never even seen/heard of him doing any training ever! He calls in for his “weekend duty”. He has deployed a few times, but only on “as needed” basis, and its only been a max of 3 months at a time with a year of “safe time” between. So he kinda defines the “weekend warrior”, if even – he doesn’t even go on weekends!!
    I have an uncle who is guard – don’t remember what his MOS(job) is though… but he does the training twice a month, but makes a party of the weekend, and has never been deployed.
    I have a close friend who is guard, who is getting called in constantly. He was deployed for a month to Africa once?! Africa?! Random lol. But his life revolves around being called in at random times constantly during the month. He is a single guy who lives just a few minutes from his base though, so he is excited to get called out of work to go play with guns.
    Another close friends husband joined the guard last year – and he has only been called back twice since AIT. He is an MP in the guard, so he only gets called to work when there is an event that they need extra MP’s for.

    So I guess it all depends on the unit, their MOS – and the state too! All of the people I know are in PA, except for the young single guy who gets called in constantly – he is in MD.

  3. Thanks for posting this. We are active duty trying to figure out what to do in the future and thinking about the National Guard. I knew they did deploy a lot but didn’t know anything about how the weekends and weeks go.

    • It varies pretty widely. My husband’s unit is in the field quite a bit for training, so they have to allow extra time for administrative tasks, but I would imagine this isn’t the case for all units. In fact, I know of several that are rarely in the field and drill days end by 2pm! Let me know if you have any questions. I’d be happy to try to answer them.

  4. I’m going to be honest, I was never clear on the difference between National Guard and active duty Army. My experience so far has been my husband training, so there were plenty of National Guard soldiers there and they all did the same stuff! I never made the assumption that they were weekend warriors. And there are so many things for me to learn about the Army that I hadn’t gotten around to getting the nitty gritty on National Guard. All that to say, thank you for the very educational post!!

    • There is plenty to learn, that’s for sure. I just learned what a “MUTA” is myself…though I can’t remember now what it stands for! But the point is that I’m always learning new things. Keeps it interesting, I guess!

  5. All of this is so true, except for one thing. I don’t know if only select units do it or what, but most units book your stay at a hotel if you have to travel from far away and need a place to stay during the weekend. Both of the units we have experienced here in GA do that. In some cases they will also reimburse you for gas, but my boyfriend was never able to get ahold of the right paperwork concerning that.
    We have never had to deal with vacation time, but your husband having to use his vacation time for AT sounds a little fishy to me. As far as I know, there are laws put in place that do not allow employers to expect that sort of thing.

    • I’m so glad the units in your area get their lodging paid for! I know that is the case with some units, but it is not with my husband’s, unfortunately. The budget just isn’t there. He recently got a partial allowance for a weeklong training – $20/night! Ugh, that’s not even a third of the cost of the hotel room. Crazy.

  6. I know, the Weekend Warrior thing always makes me “laugh”, although laugh isn’t the right word. I think it’s disgraceful that there aren’t more rigid “laws” in place, whereby employers of NG servicemembers allow their time off for duty “free” – this should not be part of vacation time! And similarly, the military need to be paying for accommodations! Heinous!

    • So. True. Especially about the vacation part! Thankfully the financial issue isn’t a terrible strain on us, but I would imagine it is for some. (And it’s not a huge incentive for the soldiers.) But the vacation thing is just absurd.

  7. I once heard someone (who was young active duty) flippantly remark that those in the National Guard were not “real” military. I was stung deeply by that remark, as my son and future son-in-law were at that moment in Afghanistan doing everything the “real” military were doing. I hope that was youthful ignorance and not the impression of the Guard by the general public. Thank you for pointing out that there is everything REAL about our Guard. Love you all for what you sacrifice and all you do, both as soldiers and as family of soldiers. You’re soldiers, too.

    • I’m quite sure it was youthful ignorance. Many active duty folks who have worked with Guard members have a lot of respect for them. In fact, many Guard members used to BE active duty. My husband’s unit has several former Marines (is there such a thing??). But it is too bad that attitude exists at all. I know my husband felt he had to prove himself competent when he was working among active duty personnel while deployed in Iraq. Thanks to you and your family for your service and sacrifices!

  8. I know we’ve talked about some of these points before, but kudos for you writing a thoughtful, well laid out post about it to help everyone understand! Great post! I’m a semi-regular at the National Guard clothing sales shop here since, well, that’s the only option, other than hanging out in clothing sales we don’t have too much exposure in our neck of the woods. As much as I piss and moan about OccDoc’s lameass schedule if he was NG I think my pissing and moaning would be off the charts! He has enough trouble getting his clinic to understand when he needs to leave on TDY and they’re a FREAKING ARMY CLINIC, I cannot imagine a civilian employer.

    • Haha! Well, the good part would be that NG doesn’t generally TDY. Although I’m sure there are exceptions. But yes, the schedule can be ridiculous. It’s just hard to watch him try to balance everything. I get so frustrated because there is nothing I can do. Except write about it!

  9. A lot of this applies to the Army Reserve too. Funny, cause when I met B he actually told me the commitment was “one weekend a month and two weeks a year.” What a filthy liar!

  10. We are a Reserve family as well… I try to get others to understand that our deployments are longer, he has 12 day work weeks every month (add civilian and army), switching from Civilian to Tricare and back sucks. AHH all of the misconceptions of Reserve life!

  11. You know…I’ve wondered about the difference between Active Duty and Reserves. Thanks for posting this. I always thought of the Guard as the weekend warriors too but was confused because of everything T does. Definitely an eye opener! :-)

    • Thanks! I’m glad you found it helpful. One thing, though: the Reserves and the Guard are not the same. They are both reserve military, but are very different. Just wanted to clarify!

  12. If it is any consolation, the brave members of the Army NG have been walking in two worlds and leading oft-interrupted lives for a century now. While during the Vietnam era the Guard might have been a place to avoid deployment, now (since the Gulf wars) it is much like it was during World Wars I and II: First in the Fight. Visit Soldier’s Mail to read letters home from a Guardsman during his deployments on the Mexican Border and in France during the Great War. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

  13. I save all of your lovely posts in a folder on yahoo. I can’t believe I’m just now getting around to reading this one.
    I think this post is perfectly written. I don’t argue with ANY of it! GJ!

  14. Mowenackie, I wrote a song about 8 years ago to pay tribute to the “Weekend Warriors,” members of the National Guard or any other military reservist troop who, more often than not, facing the rigors of training and all to often, the dangers of serving in a war zone! The song is a single and 1 of 5 songs on a cd by the same name, RED, WHITE AND YOU (theredwhiteandyou.com

  15. There are laws that clearly state that a civilian employer cannot make, or even try to make a soldier use leave for military activities. Google USERRA (Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act). I know it’s a delicate balance with civilian employers, but if it’s worth the vacation time with your husband, it’s a good way to go, and it’s a federal offense for his employer to do that. Good luck!

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