January 16, 2010: The U.S. National Guard (NG) is the modern version of the centuries old militia forces. Long stuck with castoff weapons and equipment from the regular army, the war in Iraq has unexpectedly changed this. NG troops were heavily used in Iraq (less so in Afghanistan), and this led to vast improvements in their training, combat experience and equipment. The army bought vast quantities of new gear for everyone sent to Iraq. Not just replacements for existing stuff, but many newly designed items. The NG quickly wore out their existing, already threadbare, equipment and weapons in Iraq. At first, replacement stuff was slow to come, but a public outcry over the shortages solved the problem. The NG now has more modern, and recently manufactured, equipment than they have had in a long time. The NG is even getting the latest computerized combat simulations and UAVs. This is having some interesting impacts on what the NG does most of the time; disaster relief.
Except when "federalized" (for combat duty), the NG troops are controlled by the state governor. In that role, they are used for natural emergencies or cases of civil disorder. NG troops are now trained for counter-terrorism operations as well. Many NG troops are former active duty soldiers (usually for four years) in the army, and join the NG for the extra money, and because they are familiar and comfortable with the work. Most NG units are in suburban or rural areas, where the army pay is often higher than the local averages, and thus a good way to pick up some extra money in what is essentially a part time job. A lot of the NG volunteers for the active army were inspired by patriotism, and the fact that they would be making more than their current job.
The NG is also reducing its strength, from 362,000 to 358,000. The additional troops are no longer needed, because National Guard units are not needed as much as they were during the peak years in Iraq (2004-7). The reduction is going to be done by raising recruiting standards, and eliminating re-enlistment bonuses. Among the changes for recruiters is a reducing of the minimum age from 42 to 35 and the elimination of medical and bad conduct (criminal record) waivers. Normally, a lot of medical and criminal justice problems (an arrest record, even a minor one) would keep you from enlisting. But during 2004-7, more exemptions for these problems were granted. No more. Also, commanders have been told to grant discharges more liberally (whether the soldier wants to get out, or the commander wants to "fire" a misbehaving trooper.)