"Whatever happened to our Guard Family?"
It's certainly a
not-uncommon question to hear in our wings or our armories. If
you've been in the Guard for more than a minute, you've likely heard
someone bemoan the loss of a sense of "Guard Family" that once was
uber-essential to the unit.
May 20, 2016 - Maj. Jeffrey M. Bishop, chief, 131st Bomb Wing Public
Affairs, poses for a “family portrait” along with more than 100
other Citizen-Airmen in his Guard Family, all members of the 131st
Bomb Wing, during AT Week field training at Camp Clark near Nevada,
Missouri. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Halley
But in order to measure it - to try to see if there has
in fact been a decrease - you'd first have to know what it
If by Guard Family, people mean "the three Bs:"
barbecue, beverages and B.S. (otherwise known as "war
stories"), then they might be right: in some units, we
probably enjoy social camaraderie a bit less often than we
used to. But enjoying those things isn't everything-and-all
that makes us a family.
The notion of Guard Family is
quite an enigma, even to the crustiest chief or to the
longest-toothed colonel in your unit - I know, because I've
heard them try to describe it. If they can't easily tell you
what it is, then how are you or I supposed to explain it to
new unit members; to our real family members; to co-workers
at our civilian jobs; or to active duty or Reserve
Maybe there is no good definition, but
as I've come to appreciate over my years in my unit, there
are a few concrete things that contribute to the concept of
Guard Family. As such, perhaps when considered in aggregate,
they can provide a sufficiently reliable yardstick by which
to measure it, in order to determine whether we've in fact
lost anything over the years. In my first-hand experience:
- The Guard Family demands EXCELLENCE in all we ARE.
This includes who we are in our full-time roles, in our
communities and with our families, as well as in uniform.
The bar is just a little bit higher for state militia men
- You'll make "fast friends" in the Guard
Family ... but you'll also the forge the deepest, strongest
and longest-standing friendships of any that you'll have.
- Family is there for each other in hard times. In
recent headlines, Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina
Guardsmen helped prepare citizens before and helped
communities recover after Hurricane Matthew. Indeed, in just
the couple-few months that I've been working on this essay,
I've had to update this paragraph three times. Because in
that time, we've also seen Wisconsin Citizen-Soldiers
stabilize their Milwaukee community and Louisiana Guard
members save lives and protect property from
rainfall-induced floods that ravaged that state.
Disaster striking on the home front is a "when," not "if"
proposition, and that's why the Guard exists. When ice
storms come or the earth trembles or the winds gale here in
Missouri, my local family knows that its Guard Family will
be there for them, too.
- The nature of a family is
to grow, together: to grow up, to celebrate each other, to
sometimes mourn and to invariably work through tough times -
with the best of families being better for it all.
"head of household" in a Guard Family of eight Airmen, we
have "adopted" three new members, promoted five and helped
another three set off into the wider world. We've celebrated
a handful of awards, two graduations, a wedding and three
babies. We've grieved the passing of six parents and a
grandma; slogged together through challenging, historically
unprecedented missions; and huddled one another through
difficult illnesses of three spouses. All in just the past
There have been a few tears, but there's
also been a ton of laughter. And we're indeed better for it.
- The Guard Family is the family you get to choose --
and the family that chooses you. They say you can pick your
friends, but not your family. With the Guard, you get to do
both. When you first considered joining, your Guard
recruiter had to have the utmost integrity in what she sold
you on - because she's knew she'd see you every drill for
the next four-to-twenty years. But it's a two-way street:
the Guard also insists on the luxury of being highly
selective about those it accepts and about those it keeps -
so be proud to belong!
- Guard family compels Airmen
to stay -- for years -- even a career or beyond. She stays,
even though her unit is four hours from home and she has to
leave her real family one weekend a month and at least two
weeks a year. Because the Guard Family is family, too.
These are some very real things that help us get to a
true definition of Guard Family. By this measure, I'd
contend that there will always be a keen sense of Family in
By U.S. Air National Guard Maj. Jeff Bishop
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