On Your Guard sat down with Staff Sergeant (SSG) Mike Schriefer to talk about why people join the Army National Guard. We thought who better to ask than a recruiter, who’s also had a few different jobs in his nearly 14 years of service with the Guard. SSG Schriefer, who also served in the Active Duty Army, breaks down his top 5 reasons to join this branch of the U.S. military where Soldiers serve on a part-time basis.
1. Education Benefits
SSG Schriefer says comparing the Guard’s education benefits to Active Duty’s education benefits is like comparing apples to oranges.
Active Duty components of the military receive only Federal benefits. Because the Guard’s primary mission is to serve the State and its governor, and its secondary mission is to serve the country, he explains, Soldiers are entitled to both State and Federal education benefits.
“It’s like having two Christmases,” he says.
So in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, where SSG Schriefer is a member, a Soldier can participate in a full-time degree program and receive either 100% tuition assistance for a state school or $3,619 per semester to other Pennsylvania schools, including private colleges, and technical and trade schools. It’s important to note that each State has its own policies in place.
That State benefit can also be combined with a Federal benefit like Federal tuition assistance to the tune of $4,000 a year for Soldiers who have completed one year of service after their graduation from Advanced Individual Training.
Yet another Federal benefit can pick up the tab for other expenses associated with going to college.
“Every Soldier who enlists gets the GI Bill, Select Reserve, which, while they’re enrolled in school 8-9 months out of the year, they get another $368 a month, tax-free, that goes directly to them that they can use for books, room/board, food, anything that they need,” says SSG Schriefer.
And, Soldiers who’ve already completed some or all of their education can be eligible for the Student Loan Repayment Program, which will pay up to $50,000 of student loan debt.
2. Job Training and Transferable Skills
When you join the Guard, you’ll get job training, too, in what is called your MOS, or Military Occupational Specialty. Your MOS may or may not line up with your educational pursuits or your civilian career. It can also change over time.
Many MOSs have direct counterparts in the civilian job market. The 68W MOS, for example, lends itself to working as an EMT in the civilian world. One of the questions SSG Schriefer gets is how Soldiers in combat arms MOSs like infantry and field artillery can transfer their skills to the workforce.
“They learn the invaluable skill of teamwork,” he says. “When you have to ensure 100% safety on firing a 155-mm explosive round downrange, you have to have flawless, seamless teamwork.”
Other skills: “You will also learn to work under pressure, critical thinking, dedication, and priceless leadership skills that are coveted by employers,” SSG Schriefer says. “Reliability, dependability, integrity – all those things, when you go to apply for a job, are going to make you shine over a regular civilian candidate.”
To help recruits decide on an MOS – there are 150 of them – SSG Schriefer asks them what they want to do and then directs them to NationalGuard.com to research MOS choices and check the qualifications.
Another helpful tool is the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) test, which determines which MOSs recruits are eligible for based on their scores.
Changing one’s MOS is also possible, says SSG Schriefer, but not likely during a Soldier’s initial enlistment.
“The best time for them to change their MOS is when they come up for their first contract extension,” he says. “But, it never hurts to ask if you’re a stellar Soldier and you’re doing really good things.”
3. Adventure: Finding Out You Can Do More Than You Could Have Imagined
SSG Schriefer says he was a tall, skinny kid who had played sports in high school, but, “I didn’t know how far I could physically go until Basic Training. I never knew I could run that fast, or carry a rucksack with 50 pounds in it for 12 miles. Mentally, I thought I’d never be able to make it through the gas chamber.”
At Basic, recruits can expect to do some rappelling. However, jumping out of airplanes at Airborne School and rappelling from helicopters at Air Assault School are reserved for select Soldiers.
“That’s used as an incentive. If you’re the stellar Soldier in the Unit, we’ll put you in for those schools,” says SSG Schriefer.
4. Being Part of Something Bigger Than Yourself
SSG Schriefer likes that his job is about serving the citizens of Pennsylvania.
“Our first responsibility is to take care of the people we live around, so that gives you a sense of pride,” he says. “The ability to give back to the community and share what the Guard has done for me on a daily basis is a great feeling.”
Another great feeling happens every time he arrives at drill weekend once a month. Patriotism, he says, can be seen and felt all around.
“All you have to do is look at the cars in the parking lot with flags, stickers, license plates and you see that these kids love their service, their country and love being in the military.”
This helps develop the sense of camaraderie for the less than 1 percent of the population who serve in the military.
“No one will ever know how we think, feel, act, or process things unless they have been in our shoes. That’s what creates the brotherhood,” he says.
5. Service to your Community, State, and Country (Which No Other Service Can Offer)
The idea of serving a dual mission to State and Nation is unique to the National Guard.
And while SSG Schriefer has served on just one deployment in service to the country – to Kosovo – he’s had many opportunities to help out on State missions, too, like flooding from Hurricane Sandy and delivering meals to motorists stranded by snowstorms.
But he’s found that his most fulfilling mission is in his role as a recruiter, “being able to be on the ground floor, being the first person and the first interaction with the military most people have, and being able to set them on a path of success, it shutters everything else out.”
So, if you’re ready to see how far you can take your career, especially when you don’t have to worry about paying for college, and you want to be part of a team that’s dedicated to protecting the community and the Nation, consider joining the Army National Guard. Explore our job board for information about each MOS, and contact your local recruiter for personalized advice.