JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska --
When I was a Regular Army Soldier, I had a pretty low opinion of the National Guard and the Reserve. To me, they were JV, and the regular service was varsity.
I joined the Regular Army in 1999 as a Field Artillery Soldier and was stationed with the 172nd Infantry Brigade at Fort Wainwright, Alaska.
The cataclysmic events of 9/11 had lasting effects for all components of the military. Sitting in an Army day room watching the horrific developments of the terrorist attack unfold, I knew I was going to war, and everything changed for the regular military. It changed for the National Guard and the Reserve as well.
In my mind back then, Guard and Reserve service was little more than two days a month and two weeks of the year for annual training. Though that is the typical schedule for Guardsmen and Reservists, the ensuing Global War on Terrorism would sweep up thousands of “weekend warriors” who all took the same risks in combat and had many of the same accomplishments as regular service troops.
During a 2005 deployment to Iraq, I ran into many Guard and Reserve service members who were indistinguishable on the battlefield, their unit patches serving as the only clue they were “part-time.”
Alaska Army National Guardsmen of the 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment, transported Soldiers of our brigade throughout Iraq in UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters emblazoned with the Alaska Guard shield. When I left Iraq on mid-tour leave, it was an Alaska Air National Guard C-130 Hercules belonging to the 144th Airlift Squadron that took me home.
I spoke with Guardsmen and Reservists and asked questions about how they mobilized in the states for several months before deploying. I quickly realized their mobilization plus deployment meant they often spent more time away from family than I had. I also realized they were well-trained professionals who brought civilian experience I lacked.
I left the Regular Army a few months after returning from the Middle East and went to work for the Department of Defense as a civilian. Though I enjoyed being a service member, my home is Alaska, and I wanted to stay put in the Last Frontier.
It was in the DoD civil service where I found my calling as a public affairs specialist. As a journalist, I am privileged to be able to witness all aspects of military service and to capture it with a camera and a pen.
As fulfilling as civilian work can be, I missed wearing the uniform, and I pined for the days of a brand of fellowship only found in military circles.
After an eight-year break in service, I joined the Alaska National Guard, and I found a new family that cuts across Army and Air components. Wearing the uniform while being able to build a home in Alaska is truly the best of both worlds.
Since I joined in 2015, I have been all over Alaska, and I have been to Mongolia, our State Partnership Program partner, twice. In fact, I have been to more places in three years of Guard service than I went during eight years of Regular Army service.
Currently, I am a public affairs civilian with the Alaska Air National Guard's 176th Wing at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. In much the same way I have been impressed with the professionalism and capability of the Army Guard, I have been astounded at what the Airmen of our wing can do.
Despite being a mix of Active Guard Reserve, civilian technicians and traditional drilling Guardsmen, the 176th Wing manages to carry out the full-time enterprise of maintaining and operating C-17 Globemaster IIIs, HC-130J Combat King IIs, and HH-60G Pave Hawks.
Additionally, the wing provides 24/7 search and rescue to a majority of the state.
The fact is I was flat wrong nearly two decades ago in my assessment of the Guard and Reserve. They are lethal, capable and critical components of the total force – a fact I learned while in the Regular Army, which has only been reinforced by my experience as a Citizen Soldier and Alaska Air National Guard employee.