August 15, 2010: The U.S. Army National Guard (NG) is a reserve force that is always having problems getting enough recruits. To help with this, and address the low education levels of many potential recruits (who did not complete high school), the NG has established a special school for high school dropouts. More than half the potential NG recruits lack the physical, moral (criminal records) or educational requirements to make an effective soldier. So the NG has founded an academy, where recruits who are otherwise qualified, but lack a high school degree, can go to get their degree. Many of these dropouts are often otherwise well qualified for military service. But getting that degree makes them even better. The academy recruits are sworn in and spend 3-9 months immersed in academic study so they can take the comprehensive test to get the equivalent of a high school degree. In the first class, 80 percent of the 47 recruits passed. They then went on to complete their military training and join their units. More recruits are going through the academy which, if it continues to succeed, will eventually handle over a thousand recruits a year. That will help solve the recruit problem, but there are other difficulties.
The National Guard 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 that problem. The NG now has more modern, and recently manufactured, equipment than they have had in a long time.
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 maximum 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.)