‘Always ready, always there’: guardsmen not just ‘weekend warriors’

Since Dec. 13, 1636, National Guardsman have answered the nation’s call serving in the Department of Defense’s oldest fighting force.

U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Williams, 733rd Mission Support Group NCO of operations, poses for a photo at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Dec. 8, 2017. Williams has been through nine uniform changes, multiple deployments and various career changes during his 28 years of service as an active duty and guard member. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kaylee Dubois)

Since Dec. 13, 1636, National Guardsman have answered the nation’s call serving in the Department of Defense’s oldest fighting force.

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Kirsten DeHart, Virginia Air National Guard, 192nd Fighter Wing nondestructive inspection journeyman, poses for a photo at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Dec. 9, 2017. DeHart joined the Air National Guard because it allowed her to stay in her hometown and focus on college while serving her country. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kaylee Dubois)

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. --

Since Dec. 13, 1636, National Guardsman have answered the nation’s call serving in the Department of Defense’s oldest fighting force.

With more than 500,000 U.S. service members in the Army and Air Force components, guardsmen are charged with serving both the state and nation, deploying overseas and providing immediate assistance during natural disasters. They do this while also staying connected to American communities and providing a better understanding to the nation’s services, missions, contributions and sacrifices. 

For U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Kirsten DeHart, Virginia Air National Guard, 192nd Fighter Wing nondestructive inspection journeyman, the opportunities offered by the service peeked her to join the Air National Guard.

“There are so many different jobs you can do and things you can experience,” said DeHart. “One of my favorite things about my job is I get to see and work with the jets. Every time I’m on the flightline, I just think about how cool my job is.”

Being able to stay in her hometown and focus on college was a main factor in DeHart’s decision to join the Air National Guard.

“The benefits are what motivate most people, but there are people in the guard that just want to serve their country,” said the airman first class. “I am excited and proud to come to work here and serve my country.”

Lately, DeHart has been thinking about transferring to the active-duty side of her job, so she can serve her country full time.

While DeHart wants to move into the active-duty world, many guardsman come from previous active-duty service, like U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Williams, 733rd Mission Support Group NCO of operations.

After 12 years as an active-duty Soldier, Williams left to care for his terminally ill wife. He finished his last two years of his enlistment with the Army National Guard.

“I left and I carried mail from 1994 until 2006, then re-enlisted in the guard again,” said Williams. “My wife told me I needed to get back into the Army because I had it in me and might as well go back to finish my time.”

Williams said his age kept him from joining active duty, but for him, nothing is different between the two forms of service—he still needs to pass his physical training test and qualify as a Soldier.

However, after dedicating 18 years of service, Williams requested to finish his last two years as an active duty Soldier.

Through nine uniform changes, multiple deployments and various career changes, Williams will have a total of 28 years of service between active duty and the guard by the time he retires.

With the wide range of backgrounds found within guard units, Williams felt a different connection with his comrades. He said he enjoyed his time in the guard and all the people he met along the way.

“I enjoyed the camaraderie (while on active duty), but there’s a different type of connection you share with your guard friends” said the sergeant first class. “Since people have other jobs in the civilian sector, you can network and use that to help each other. You have people in construction, auto mechanics – just all walks of life.”

Although the members of the National Guard may spend a shorter amount of time in uniform than active-duty members, Williams said his peers sweat, bleed and fight just the same.

“Guardsman want to serve their country,” said Williams. “You can serve your country in a lot of different ways, but they want to help their state and serve their country in uniform.”

With such an extensive Army career, Williams suggests knowing your reason for joining before choosing between any active or guard service.

“If you want just an experience of what the military is like, join the guard. If you want to live the life after you have experienced then join active duty,” said Williams. “If you feel strongly about freedom, then join the military and join any branch. Each branch of service has their own unique benefits, just do your research and check all the branches.”

Today, the men and women of the Army and Air National Guard are not just weekend warriors. The training the guardsmen receive prepare them to join active-duty forces overseas at any moment or put their lives on standby to protect their homeland.