What's the Difference between Army and National Guard/Reserves?


In the past few years many changes have been made through the Army Reserve and National Guard Bureau to improve the resources and support available to the families of the Reserve Component.  The goal of this blog post is to inform and help Guard and Reserve spouses, to make the road through chain of command and deployment smoother and easier to travel. Take the information in this blog and adjust it to the needs of your particular situation.  As you read this blog, keep in mind that the National Guard and Army Reserve are each unique and it would take a whole separate website to cover all the different situations and circumstances that can and will arise.  The most important thing to remember is that there are resources available that can provide answers to your questions.


The term “Active Army” normally defines Soldiers that are on duty 365 days a year during their term of service.  Whereas, Reserve Component Soldiers have traditionally served one weekend a month and 15 days each summer, in addition to any active duty required for schools and particular assignments.  Reserve Component Soldiers have often been labeled citizen Soldiers inasmuch they also have civilian careers.  The Reserve Component of the army includes both the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve.

The National Guard is the oldest of our nation’s military services.  It traces its lineage back to December 13th, 1636 when its oldest regiments met for their first drill on the village green in Salem, Massachusetts.   These regiments were formed in the British military tradition to provide security for the British colonists in the absence of regular British Soldiers.  These Soldiers were the nucleus of the Continental Army that won American independence, hence the symbol of the National Guard being the Minuteman.  The Constitution specifies that congress will raise, fund and be responsible for the training of the militia and that the President can call on them in times of national need.  These roots have resulted in the dual mission of the National Guard.  During times of peace, all National Guard Units report to their State Governor as their Commander in Chief.  These units serve their states in time of civil unrest and disasters.  Every State and Territory of the United States has National Guard Units that are commanded by their State Adjutant General who reports to and works for the State Governor.  During these times these units, along with the Active Army make up our National Military deterrence.  Finally, once mobilized, National Guard Units report to the President as their Commander in Chief and are available to fight America’s wars.

The Army Reserve is a Federal Reserve force that was founded in April 23, 1908, as the Medical Reserve Corps.   Initial efforts were to build a federal force of technical specialties to fill Active Army shortages in times of need.  As a federal force the Army Reserve do not have the same state mission as does the National Guard.  They will only support civil unrest or disasters if called upon by our federal government.

The Active Army was formed on 14 June 1775-over a year before the Declaration of Independence.  It is the nucleus and infrastructure that forms our National defense today.  Unlike the Militia, it is a federal force reporting only to the President of the United States as its Commander in Chief. 


Many Reserve Component spouses have little familiarity with their Soldier’s “part-time” job and drill weekends.  If you haven’t educated yourself on this part of their life, now is the time.  Motivate yourself to reach out and find as much information as you can.  This will put you in a position to be in control of any situation that may arise.  If you take the position of FRG Leader, families of the Soldiers will look to you as an example and as a person who will have the answers to their questions.

There is a lot of information and training available.  You may want to start by taking advantage of instruction called Army Family Team Building (AFTB) and Guard Family Team Building (GFTB).  Both are offered through State Family Programs Offices, Army Community Service (ACS) and on-line.  It is a good, basic introduction to the military and how military life affects your life as a spouse.  There is more than one short, modular course of information, to accommodate different levels of experience.  Continue gathering information by reading many of the publications that are available.  There are countless resources on the Internet that support the military family. Those specific to the Guard and Reserve will be of benefit to you (a few helpful sites are listed at the end of this chapter and also in the Army Resources and Organizations chapter of this book).

Especially for Guard spouses:  Check out your state’s National Guard website.  There should be a link to “Family Programs” somewhere on the home page.  An example of a great web page can be found at www.ut.ngb.army.mil.  There are many informational pages and links available and the site is easy to navigate.  It is important to remember that each state runs their FRG program a little differently according to the Adjutant General’s guidance.  It is important to be familiar with the rules and regulations of your state.

A helpful bit of information to be familiar with is the Chain of Command that applies to your situation.  (Be aware that it will change during a deployment.)  This chain of command can be a reference to you, for often there are knowledgeable and experienced spouses of those in the chain of command. They have often been in your situation before.  


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