Book Review: National Guard 101, A Handbook for Spouses

To a lot of civilians, members of the National Guard aren't viewed as "real soldiers". They don't live on post, they aren't surrounded by the military lifestyle 24/7, and often their day-to-day jobs are not even related to the military. Yet, when a National Guard unit is deployed, they and their families are asked to undergo a lot of the same challenges and uncertainty that full-time military members and their families face.

This difficult and stressful transition between part-time and full-time soldier (and soldier's spouse) has been a constant occurrence since the War on Terror began after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Mary Corbett, who married an officer in the Minnesota National Guard only a couple of years before the attacks, searched for years for a book to help her and other National Guard spouses both understand what soldiers in the Guard experience and how best to deal with the constant lifestyle changes. When she couldn't find a book to help her, she decided to write one!

Is her book National Guard 101: A Handbook for Spouses worth a spot on the bookshelf of every member of the National Guard? Read on to find out!

Table of Contents

Despite being only about 200 pages long, this book covers a lot of information. Just glancing through the table of contents, you can get a nice overview of what's covered:
  • Chapter 1: A Brief History Lesson
  • Chapter 2: Duty Calls
  • Chapter 3: The Company Line
  • Chapter 4: Understanding Rank and the Wear of the Uniform
  • Chapter 5: The Promotion System
  • Chapter 6: What if your Spouse is the Company Commander?
  • Chapter 7: The Benefits of Being a Guardsmen
  • Chapter 8: The Guard Family
  • Chapter 9: Official Guard Functions
  • Chapter 10: When Your Soldier Deploys: Your Plan for Deployment

As you can see, there is a lot of general military history and information, along with a lot of Guard-specific stuff that related directly to the experience of Mary Corbett and countless other Guard spouses.

Chapter Breakdown

Let's take a slightly more in-depth look at the chapters, to see what this book is covering, and what makes it different from the other books for military families.

Chapter 1: A Brief History Lesson

This chapter covers the history of the US military and the National Guard specifically. Starting with the opening shots of the American Revolution, continuing through the National Defense Act of 1916, and all the way up to today.

Included in the history lesson is also more detail on the specifics of both the Army and Air Force National Guard, the National Guard's transition from a reserve force into an operational force, and a discussion on the US military's move to an all-volunteer fighting force.

Chapter 2:Duty Calls

This section covers some of the different types of duty that a National Guard member can be called to perform. Unit activations, such as State Active Duty, Title 32, and Title 10 duty are all covered, as are different types of individual activations - Active Duty for Training, Individual Mobilization Augmentee, and Casualty Notification and Assistance Officers.

Chapter 3:The Company Line

This chapter covers the different MOS functional areas, the organization of the company, as well as a soldier's typical training year.

Covering such topics as the IDT, APFT, FTX, and AT, this chapter gives a lot of insight into what a National Guard soldier (and their spouse) will have to deal with on a yearly basis. It will also help unscramble the alphabet soup of abbreviations that the military seems to add to every year!

Chapter 4:Understanding Rank and the Wear of the Uniform

This chapter not only explains why soldiers need rank and the differences between officer vs. enlisted, but it also has a breakdown of all the enlisted, Warrant officer, and Commissioned officer ranks, including details like their responsibilities, duties, average time of service, and rank insignia.

Some nice extra information for spouses includes the spoken form of all the officer and enlisted ranks, how to introduce and address other military personnel, equipment and uniform care, and even when to wear your spouses rank (hint: NEVER).

Chapter 5:The Promotion System

This section is a nicely detailed look at the promotion system for a non-military person. From the early promotions, to the promotion packet, commissioned officer promotions, promotions that might lead to relocation, and how a spouse can best support their soldier during and after the process - it's all very well covered.

Chapter 6:What if your Spouse is the Company Commander

Although chances are that if you are married to a company commander you will have a good amount of experience with the National Guard lifestyle and traditions, this chapter can provide a preview of what extra responsibilities you may have.

Things like planning the reception after the change-of-command ceremony, helping out with the Family Readiness Group (FRG), balancing your new ideas with potential skepticism from those that may have been at your new station for a while, and making sure to squash any rumors that may come up, are just some of the (unofficial) responsibilities of the commander's spouse.

Chapter 7:The Benefits of Being A Guardsman

Like its active duty counterpart, being in the National Guard bestows upon each soldier and their family lots of benefits. Describing individual benefits and how to best use them could take several hundred pages all on its own. Although this section makes no claims at being totally comprehensive, it does cover quite a bit in very approachable language.

Topics and benefits covered include DEERS, the CAC, various types of compensation, TSP, insurance, Space-A Travel, education benfits, and the MWR. The financial benefits and compensation that is covered in this chapter alone will more than pay for the cost of this book!

Chapter 8:The Guard Family

Being in the National Guard is not just a strain for the soldiers that are enlisted, the regular absences for drill and training and the unpredictable and sudden deployments can take a large toll on the guard members family as well. Knowing this, the National Guard has three main resources to help families - whether their soldier is deployed or at home.

This chapter covers these three organizations; the State Family Programs Office (SFPO), the Family Assistance Centers (FAC), and the Family Readiness Group (FRG), as well as tools like AKO, the Telephone Tree, and newsletters or other ways that the Guard can relay information to soldiers and their families. Although most people are aware of the amount of time and money the military spends on combat training and equipment, this chapter shows how much attention is also paid to keeping families in the loop.

Chapter 9:Official Guard Functions

Although the social life of a National Guard soldier is much less dependent on other military members than that of an active duty soldier, there are still plenty of opportunities and advantages to getting to know other soldiers and their families.

This chapter not only covers some of the various events that soldiers and their families might attend, it also covers etiquette for things like military dinners, military weddings, and other general formal and informal events. Networking and attending social functions are an essential part of feeling at home in the Guard family, and this chapter can give you a great idea of what to expect at these functions.

Chapter 10:When Your Soldier Deploys: Your Plan for Deployment

No matter how stressful the regular pattern of National Guard training can be to a Guard member's family, the uncertainty and doubt leading up to a deployment can be overwhelming.

Of course, the best way to feel comfortable in an unfamiliar situation is to have a plan, and this chapter (the longest in the book) goes through a detailed step-by-step plan on what to do. If you're in doubt of how to best prepare or adapt to your soldier heading overseas, this chapter can give you a plan to put into place as soon as the deployment orders arrive.

Final Thoughts

If you're getting into (or are already in) a relationship with a National Guard soldier, or are in the National Guard and want to offer your significant other some support, it should go without saying that this book is incredibly useful.

The chapters on adapting to a deployed soldier, learning about your benefits, and the yearly training exercises that all Guard members participate in are more than worth the price of the book. The fact that all the information is presented in a personal and easy-to-read manner just makes it more likely that you will get some good information and advice. To buy the book, click on one of the following links:

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