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.
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?