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The Measure of 'Guard Family'
by U.S. Air National Guard Maj. Jeff Bishop
November 29, 2016

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"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 Burgess)
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 Burgess)

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 is.

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 counterparts?

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 and women.

- 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.

As "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 three years.

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 our Guard.

By U.S. Air National Guard Maj. Jeff Bishop
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2016

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