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Why to Extend Your Service

While most Soldiers join the Guard for what it can do for them, they stay in because of what it does to them—it turns them into better versions of themselves. Here’s a look at how the Guard helps you do and be more, through Soldiers' own eyes.

Go Guard. But then what? 

No matter how much fun it is to shoot big guns, camp out under spacious skies and purple mountain majesties, and maybe embark on the occasional overseas adventure, no one expects you to serve just for the military discount at Home Depot (although that’s nothing to shake a stick at). Extending your commitment to the Guard means reaping rewards both obvious—like drill pay and the GI Bill—and obscure—such as increased job satisfaction and a healthier lifestyle. The next few paragraphs break down many of those benefits, by the numbers. And yet still, renewing your service to country and community is something greater than the sum of its parts.


Many Soldiers who extend their service for six years will put twelve grand in their pocket. With this extension bonus, you could buy a 2013 Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 Custom. Or you could take yourself to the movies once every week for 14 years. Or, you know, you could save for retirement or your kids’ college fund. (The Guard gives you an opportunity to do that, too, with the Thrift Savings The low-cost, reliable retirement savings and investment plan available only to federal employees and members of the Armed Forces is a great place to sock away those savings.)

That’s what an E-5 with six years in makes per month for one drill. Assuming you work two 10-hour days for a drill, that’s $18.40 per hour, which is more than you’ll make at just about any part-time job that doesn’t involve selling something that could land you in jail. 

And then there’s Annual Training pay, combat pay, flight pay, and, if you’re cool enough to be an Army diver, diver pay. Even plain old GIs can still get paid for knowing a foreign language. All that special pay—based on your MOS or a particular situation—adds up to a pretty nice part-time paycheck.



According to a Gallup Poll, that’s the percentage of American workers who are happy with their jobs. While the U.S. economy has made recent strides, and the unemployment rate is lower than it has been in years, more jobholders are working harder for less money for companies they aren’t passionate about.

The Guard is more than a job—it’s a reflection of who you are as a person. It’s a statement that you care about things like duty and service. And regardless of whether you enjoy what you do (if you don’t, there are ways to fix that), what’s undeniable is that your service means something. In a world where people are getting paid less for more work they don’t care about, that sense of purpose is priceless. 

But the Guard gives you even more than satisfaction—it also offers you a head start on a metric crap-ton (technical term) of careers. From the real-world experience you get, to access to job placement assistance through programs like Troops to Teachers ( and Helmets to Hardhats (, to tools for service members like, your experience in the Guard will make you more competitive for the kinds of jobs that can help you join that 30 percent. And if you’re the kind of person who likes to make your own way, there’s also the Small Business Administration’s business loan program for Veterans (



That’s how much more per year the average worker with a bachelor’s degree makes compared to a high school graduate with no college, says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even having some college will earn you an average $3,796 more per year compared to just a high school diploma. And from the GI Bill to the Student Loan Repayment Program to state tuition assistance (more on these in a bit), there simply aren’t many employers out there that offer more ways to earn a college degree than the National Guard. 

And the educational opportunities don’t stop there. The Guard’s focus on providing credentialing programs for Soldiers can also make you money by opening employment doors or earning you more pay for the job you’re already doing. Check out for details.

Over four years, that is how much you stand to make by maxing out your Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits ( Plus, if you’re eligible for the GI Bill Kicker, you’ll earn even more. And that doesn’t include your housing allowance, which could put another $40,000 in your pocket. (Did we mention that Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits, including the GI Bill and GI Bill Kicker, are tax-free?) The GI Bill changes Soldiers’ lives, giving many a shot at careers (and the livelihoods that come with them) for which they otherwise might never have the chance. 

The Guard can get you college credit through other avenues, too. There’s the Student Loan Repayment Program (, which offers debt relief, and state-based tuition assistance. And organizations like the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Educational Support ( can help translate your military experience directly to college credit, let you take College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests for free or refer you to military-friendly colleges.



Single Soldiers, that’s what you’ll pay on average per month for health insurance coverage if you don’t have a civilian job that provides it for you. TRICARE Reserve Select (, on the other hand, currently costs $50.75 per month for single Soldiers—that’s an annual savings of more than $3,300.

That’s what the average family will save per month on insurance with TRICARE Reserve Select versus a civilian employer-sponsored plan. Those who pay for insurance out of pocket have it even worse. Despite the Affordable Care Act, premiums can still be high for some, and aside from now being illegal, forgoing insurance is about as smart as jumping out of a C-130 without a reserve parachute. 

Besides the fact that TRICARE saves you a bundle on healthcare coverage, you may also be less likely to even need it. The Guard both requires and pays you to stay in shape, fostering a healthy lifestyle that helps keep you out of the doctor’s office to begin with. 

You can also take advantage of Servicemembers Group Life Insurance (, an incredibly low-cost life insurance option for military members. For just $26 per month, you can max out your coverage with a $400,000 policy.



That’s the down payment you’ll make on a VA home loan if you qualify (you probably do). One reason for the economic rebound is that the government made home loans harder to get. This is good for Americans who were buying homes they couldn’t really afford. But it also makes it more difficult for young people to purchase a home. With the VA’s program (, eligible Soldiers do so with no money down, allowing them to become homeowners long before they otherwise would.



There’s a reason people look at you that way when you walk through the airport in uniform, or stop to get gas on your way home from drill. The uniform identifies you as one of the less than .5 percent of Americans who will ever serve in the military—and maybe more today than ever before, people recognize and appreciate the sacrifices associated with wearing it.

For some, the feeling they get when they don the uniform is the best reason to join the Guard in the first place. No matter what else you accomplish in your life, you’ll always know that you did something that made a difference. And no one can take that away from you. 

If you’re fortunate enough to have someone who calls you “Mom” or “Dad,” being in that .5 percent takes on even more importance. If ever there was a reason to ensure your country’s safety, it’s that it’s the America your kids will grow up in.


Top 10 Reasons to Re-Up You’ll Never See on a Recruiting Poster

If there’s one thing your sergeant major has told you that rings truer than all others, it’s that money isn’t the right reason to be in this business. Obviously, you’re really in it for the free* uniforms and paid camping trips! Here are 10 more reasons to stick it out in the Guard:

*Not applicable to officers. No one knows why officers keep hanging around.

01 / Camo brings out the sparkle in your eyes.

02 / It’s impossible to replicate the MRE experience outside of the real thing, and a life without Ranger pudding is not a life you’re interested in living.

03 / Three words: Free dog tags!

04 / The only other professions that pay you to be good with guns are “YouTube sensation” and “celebrity bodyguard.” But you were born with a face for radio, and you can’t stand prima donnas.

05 / You put the “Me” in ’Merica. Your blood type is red, white and blue, and you’re the freedom-est thing to happen to the Guard since Benjamin Franklin wrote the blueprints for the musket on the back of his rough draft of the Constitution.

[Editor’s note: That definitely did not happen. The musket was used in China as early as the 1300s.]

06 / The idea of working in a cubicle makes you want to pop out your eyeballs with an MRE spoon.

07 / There’s nothing like the smell of CLP wafting off a smoking rifle in the morning. Or night. Or with coffee. Or with dinner. Or any other time. It smells even better than bacon.

08 / You haven’t deployed yet, and that feels a little like being on a football team for six years without playing in a game.

09 / You really like to blow stuff up. Like, maybe a little too much. Seriously, maybe you should dial it down a notch or two; people are starting to get concerned. (Except your fellow Soldiers—they’re too busy being exactly like you.)

10 / You can’t think of a better way to spend one weekend a month than hanging out with your bestest buds and doing stuff your civilian friends don’t have the guts to try. 

When you make it to only one drill before shipping off to Iraq, when you’re an Apache gunship guy who’s thrust into the kinder, gentler Black Hawk community, and when you show up to war one day not knowing anybody, things can be … awkward.

That’s how I found myself in a Containerized Housing Unit in the Iraqi desert in the dead of summer with a guy who didn’t know who Coldplay was. You might be thinking to yourself, “But Coldplay was the biggest band in the world in 2009; what kind of whack job doesn’t know who the biggest band in the world is?” Yeah, that’s what I thought too.

And this wasn’t the first time the Army had put me in a weird spot. I got into aviation mostly by accident about 15 years ago. My intention was to join the Army Reserve to build my video production portfolio as a combat journalist; however, you have to join before you pick your job, and by the time I learned they didn’t have any open combat journalism positions, I’d already told my concerned mom and pacifist dad that I might go to war and die one day … and you can’t just back out from something like that. So I became an Apache crew chief because ... you know, it has guns and stuff. And everyone knows helicopters are cool. Several years and a few stripes later, I became a warrant officer and went to flight school.

A few years after that, I lost my civilian job for the first time. That’s when I transitioned to the Guard.

In case you’ve forgotten, 2009 wasn’t a great time to be looking for a job. Something about the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression? I had been out of work for a year or so when I learned that my unit (Troop D, 1/230th Air Cavalry Squadron, Tennessee Army National Guard) was about to deploy, and that if I went with them, I’d be gainfully employed for at least a year. This was good. I got a conditional release from the Reserve and went Guard.

During the deployment, I made the best money I’d ever made in my life. Then I came back, and the proverbial crap hit the fan. Within two years, I separated from my wife of almost 10 years, eventually divorced, found an amazing Guard-related job, got promoted three times and then got laid off again. Something about DoD budget cutbacks in 2013? I don’t know what “sequestration” means, but I think it might be French for “Marc gets screwed again.”

Recruiters sign people up for the Guard for tons of reasons—drill pay, bonuses, college. I joined to build my video production portfolio. But if you asked me why I’ve stayed in after 15 years, I would tell you about my friend Patrick. He’s one of the best, kindest people I have ever met. He would give you the shirt off his back before you even asked for it. And by the end of our time in that tiny metal house in the desert, he was playing his mandolin along to Coldplay and Cake and all kinds of bands he’d never heard of before he learned about them from me. And I learned from him that there are people who pronounce the word jalapeno with a hard J, as in Juliet. All in all, we both learned a lot. If it weren’t for the Guard, I wouldn’t have Patrick, or the dozens of other comrades I’ve met, in my life. I’d gladly show up to war with each of them.

Next I would talk about the fact that, despite a divorce and two civilian job layoffs in three years’ time, I was able to keep my house in large part because of the steady income from my Guard job. Or that, even without combat journalism experience, my military knowledge makes me an expert in a field that I’ve built a career in. Or maybe that, as a writer, instead of having to serve overpriced coffee to pretentious yuppies part time, I get to fly helicopters, which—let’s face it—is pretty awesome.

But I would finish by telling you about an 8-year-old girl who lives at my house half the time. She loves Frozen and kicks butt at gymnastics and has the kind of sparkling laugh that, for as long as men have lived, they’ve gone to war to protect. We’re talking Helen of Troy kind of stuff. I would tell you that as I sit here and think about why, knowing all the risks and sacrifices associated with Guard service, someone would extend, all I can think of is last night when I was tucking her into bed.

Out of the blue, she told me that her favorite pajama shirt is one her brother handed down to her—it says, “My daddy is my hero.”


By Heidi Lynn Russell

Extending your service in the National Guard and Reserve requires completing a series of steps. But be aware that any misstep may result in the loss of bonuses or even opportunities for schooling and career advancement.

Use this easy primer from SFC Edmundo Herrera, former retention NCO of the Wyoming Army National Guard, so you don’t miss out on anything coming to you.

Know when to extend
You can extend 12 months out from your scheduled expiration term of service (ETS) date, with or without a retention bonus. Your unit’s training and retention NCO will conduct the first interview on your intentions when you’re one year out from your scheduled exit. If you’re on the fence, those interviews will then be repeated periodically—270, 180, 120, 90, 60 and 30 days out. During subsequent interviews, you also will meet with your first-line leader, platoon sergeant, commander or first sergeant, or brigade counselor.

Note these exceptions
You can extend before you’re 12 months out if you have an ROTC or Active Duty service requirement that must be fulfilled. There are other service requirements that may require you to extend, too, such as any training or participation in an education program. Talk to your retention NCO about whether you are currently involved with any programs, benefits or entitlements that might require you to extend earlier than anticipated.

Meet the criteria
Soldiers may be ineligible to extend if they are under any type of Suspension of Favorable Personnel Actions. They also must have a current/passing height and weight or body composition, and a current/passing Army Physical Fitness Test within 18 months of extension. Also, you must have a current physical examination or annual Periodic Health Assessment.

Discuss career advancement
Explore career progression opportunities with your first-line leader and chain of command. You could be offered a special school, e.g., Airborne, Air Assault, etc., if funding and training seats are available. If you are near another state and unit, an interstate transfer may be an option. Keep in mind you may be eligible for Officer Candidate School, or warrant officer opportunities, too.

Get family members involved
“Let everyone know what the extension would involve and address resources that would help them,” Herrera says. “When I was a recruiter and new guys were coming in, I would rarely see families come in with them. Extending is a big thing, like enlisting.”

Find out about bonuses
The Army National Guard is offering a Re-enlistment Extension Bonus (REB) to qualified Soldiers of $4,000 for an extension of two years, or $12,000 for an extension of six years*.  Also, to qualify for the Student Loan Repayment Program, you must extend for six years and must extend before 90 days of ETS. (For the REB, you can extend even one day prior to ETS and still receive the bonus.) Also, note that you are not allowed to receive multiple incentives: For example, for a six-year extension, you can receive the REB or get the SLRP, but not both. 

Anticipate pitfalls
If you received a bonus and were away from the active National Guard because of a hardship, the military may recover your bonus unless you extend your service time. Know the schedule and the impact on benefits. The interviews you receive beginning at 270 days out should make you aware of your benefits; if you’re uncertain about your options, be sure to ask questions.

*Subject to change 

To find out how to connect with a retention NCO in your state, go to