What about the National Guard?

Army Reserves vs. National Guard: What is the Difference?

The Army Reserves is a division of the Army, which is normally activated during emergencies such as war. They are not like a standing army because they do not work full time. Like the National Guard, they are the forces that work and train on the weekends.

The difference between the Army Reserves and the National Guard is that the Army Reserves is commanded by the president and the federal government. The National Guard however, is controlled by their respective state.

The Army Reserves go to war overseas, whereas the National Guard is meant to stay in the United States for support.

The National Guard

Of all the soldiers serving in Iraq, none affect their home communities as much as those serving in the Army National Guard. Torn from their jobs, these “weekend warriors,” many of whom signed up out of a promise of free college tuition and a part-time job, have been thrown into a conflict thousands of miles away from home. Refusing to institute a draft for such an unpopular war, President Bush has chosen instead to force these heroic community servants into a foreign conflict to supplement an army too small to carry out such a war without a draft. Since Sept. 11, more than 210,000 of the Guard's 330,000 soldiers have been called up to active duty.1 Instead of protecting their states from hurricanes and floods, these guardspeople are dying in unprecedented numbers with no end to the bloodshed in sight. Two-hundred and eleven Army National Guard soldiers have already died in Iraq,2 more than double the amount that died in the entire Vietnam War.

The Purpose of the National Guard

The National Guard was created in 1903 by the Dick Act, which reorganized state militias into National Guard units. The Act standardized the equipment and training and poured massive amounts of federal funding into these units.3 The National Guard was meant to assist states in times of local emergencies like floods, earthquakes and other disasters, and to protect the country as a whole in time of federal emergencies.

Unlike regular Army soldiers who serve full time and are stationed on military bases; members of the Army National Guard serve only on weekends and live at home, the exception being when they are called up to active duty in time of emergency by the Governor of their state or the President. This distinction allows guardspeople to attend college and work full-time jobs. This distinction is also creating problems as more and more guardspeople are being called up to active, full-time duty and shipped overseas. Federal call-ups are having an impact on members of local law enforcement agencies, fire departments, and emergency medical crews, many of which are staffed by National Guard members.4 Over 44 percent of the country's police forces have lost officers to Iraq.5

Local Impact of War

In addition to depriving states of local first-responders, the move of National Guard units overseas is impairing the ability of states to deal with large disasters. A record setting wildfire season this spring caused Brian Schweitzer, the governor of Montana, to call for the return of National Guard troops fighting in Iraq to help out. More than 1500 of Montana’s 3500 National Guard troops are currently serving on federal active duty.6 The wildfire problem in Montana is only compounding the feeling that many governors have that National Guard forces are stretched too thin.

Historical Background

During the War of 1812, many governors refused to mobilize state militia’s to invade Canada. Their refusal sparked off a debate about whether the constitution allowed the president to order state militia units to fight outside of the United States. Congress circumvented this issue in 1908 by designating the National Guard as the United States' first line of reserve.7 When the president calls-up the Guard units to federal duty, he in effect “drafts” the unit into the military. When units are drafted, they technically become part of the United States Military, but they retain all the same equipment and members. The only major difference is that they go on active, full-time duty and become subject to the orders of the United States Military and no longer serve their state.8

National Guard Forces Serving in Iraq

President Bush drafted the National Guard into US Military full-time service when he sent more than 37,000 National Guard soldiers to Iraq in late 2003 to replace forces already on the ground.9 It was the largest mobilization of the National Guard since the Korean War. National Guard soldiers served in Vietnam, the Gulf War, and Kosovo, but only in a limited capacity and in the latter two wars without any fatalities.10 Since then, National Guard mobilizations have only escalated with a new unit being called-up to active duty every few weeks.

The use of National Guard soldiers in Iraq far exceeds its use compared to other wars. As of June 5th 2005, the National Guard accounted for 45% of the total Army force in Iraq.11 Guard units typically use older equipment than active-duty Army units, who receive priority. It was a Tennessee National Guard soldier that asked that National Guard units receive a $1000 bonus for every month beyond the date the units were due to return home from Iraq. Such extensions are becoming increasingly common, as more troops are needed in Iraq.

Since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 364,000 reserve troops and National Guard soldiers have been called for military service, serving tours of duty that often last 20 months. Studies show that between 30 and 40 percent of reservists and National Guard members earn a lower salary when they leave civilian employment for military deployment. Army Emergency Relief has reported that requests from military families for food stamps and subsidized meals increased "several hundred percent" between 2002 and 2003.



[1] Ibid


2 “In Memoriam” National Guard Bureau. http://www.arng.army.mil/news/memorial/

3 "National Guard of the United States," Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 99. © 1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.


4  Kellogg, Sarah. “Governors worry National Guard spread too thin at home.” Booth Newspapers. 4/25/05



5  “Costs on the United States: Security Costs.” http://www.iraqometer.com/


6  “Montana Governor Sets off Fight with Call to Bring Guard Home” The New York Times. March 12, 2005 http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/13/national/13montana.html?ex=1115956800&en=cf6bbec9c7aa2569&ei=5070


7 Merkel, William G., Uriller, Richard H. “The Last Years of the Militia of the Whole.” “Muting the Second Amendment: The Disappearance of the Constitutional Militia.” The Second Amendment in Law And History. The New Press, New York, 2000. Pg 167.


8 Merkel, William G., Uriller, Richard H. “The Birth of the National Guard.” Pg 167.


9 Putnam, Bill Spc.  “112,000 service members tapped for Iraq” http://www.arng.army.mil/news/news_view.asp?news_id=957


10 Haskell, Master Sgt. Bob. “Guard Casualties.”


11 Alan Wirzvicki. “Montana in a Tug of War for Guardsmen” June 5th 2005. Boston Globe http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2005/06/05/montana_in_a_tug_of_war_for_guard

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