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The GX Guide to the Benefits of Guard Service
There are as many reasons to stay in the Guard as there are Guard Soldiers. From money in the bank to often-overlooked benefits such as small-business loans and Space-A travel, the Guard gives as much as it takes. And what you get is both tangible and priceless. The following pages discuss the biggest ways a Soldier benefits by being in the Guard. Sure, some offerings such as the GI Bill or the VA’s mortgage assistance program still apply even to those who leave the force, but when you consider the scope of everything here and how it can improve your life, why not take advantage of it all? (Most benefits are offered on a state-by-state basis. Check with your readiness NCO to see if you qualify or to get more information.)
Money talks. No matter why you joined the Guard, or how pure your motives are for staying, you’re not a volunteer. You’re a professional war fighter, and you should get paid like one. One of the most important ways the Guard rewards you is the simplest: It puts money in your pocket.
An E-5 with six years of service will pull in $360 each month for one full drill. If you really want to make your drill pay count, become an officer. A first lieutenant with 12 years of service will make $611 for one weekend drill. Assuming he works two 10-hour days, that’s $30 per hour.
ANNUAL TRAINING PAY
That E-5 with six years in? He’s pulling in $1,300 just in base pay for two weeks of Annual Training (AT). Plus free room and board, which over two weeks should save him more than $100 just in food alone. The first lieutenant with 12 years of service is doing even better, making $2,300. Since AT is Active Duty, both of those Soldiers will also receive Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) if they’re married or have dependents (for the 1LT, that could be up to an extra $600). Getting paid and receiving career development is a good deal.
Right now, they’re available.* Soldiers who extend their contract for three years might be eligible for up to $5,000. For a six-year extension, it’s $10,000. But you’ll need to sign your extension between nine and 12 months before your expiration term of service (ETS) date. To see if you qualify, talk to your retention NCO.
ADDITIONAL TRAINING PAY
Some MOSs are eligible for this. Aviation service, for example, gives Soldiers the opportunity to work up to 72 extra training periods each year. Those Additional Flight Training Periods (AFTPs) pay a full day’s pay for only four hours of work. And every Soldier can be sent to training schools where they’ll make Active Duty pay for training.
Example: 1LT Black Hawk pilot with 12 years of service flies four AFTPs each month and attends one four-week professional development course in one year. He’d make around $10,000 that year on top of his drill pay and AT pay.
That 1LT with 12 years of service? Normally at least 15 percent of his check goes to pay taxes. If he were deployed to a tax-free location for 12 months, he would save thousands of dollars in taxes he doesn’t have to pay.
You should be eligible for tax breaks related to your service, especially if you live more than 50 miles from your duty location. From mileage to unreimbursed housing costs for drill, ask your tax professional what you can and cannot write off. (If you don’t bring it up, that person might not know to ask.) If you already itemize your deductions, claiming unreimbursed expenses can save you hundreds of dollars a year at tax time.
From retail stores such as The Home Depot and Lowe’s to restaurants to hotels and airlines, scores of businesses offer military discounts ranging anywhere from 10 percent to 50 percent. To really maximize the benefit, ask about these, especially on big purchases.
Example: A Soldier has to replace the air conditioning unit for his home. He buys one at The Home Depot, using its 10 percent discount. On his $2,700 AC unit, he saves $270.
THRIFT SAVINGS PLAN
The Guard doesn’t just give you a pension for retirement—it helps you save for it too. Similar to a civilian 401(k), the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) lets you take advantage of tax breaks (including Roth contributions) and automatic payroll deductions. The low administrative fees also make this a great retirement savings option for Soldiers.
These let you shop tax-free for most items from hot dogs to home furnishings. If you don’t live close to a base, you can still shop online at ShopMyExchange.com. Shopping at your local or online Base Exchange (BX)/Post Exchange (PX) can easily save you thousands of dollars every year—on stuff you were going to buy anyway.
Example: A Soldier buys a $1,500 laptop at the PX. If the local sales tax is 9 percent, that’s $135 saved.
Seeing this as a reason to extend your enlistment requires long-term thinking. But that’s what you’ve been trained to do. Retirement isn’t just about collecting a paycheck, either. If you factor in the access to health insurance, commissary privileges and other retiree benefits, a Guard retirement pays very well.
Example: Our 1LT retires as a major after 20 years. Assuming he served one weekend a month and one 15-day AT each year, and deployed twice, at age 62 he would get more than $1,000 every month.
Many Soldiers join the Guard to get help paying for college. Whether you’ve already started college or you never thought going was an option, make the most of this benefit. It won’t just help you get ahead in the Guard, it will help you get ahead in your civilian life.
You know about using this for college. What you might not know is that you can use it for on-the-job training, apprenticeships and non–college degree programs. Changing careers? You can use your GI Bill for certification programs. You can even get GI Bill reimbursement for certain licensing exams. The maximum benefit varies depending on how many hours you’re taking, but you can often receive $15,000 or more in benefits each year. Contact Veterans Affairs (VA) at GIBill.VA.gov to see if you are eligible.
Example: A Soldier who makes $15,000 a year in GI Bill benefits will have earned an additional $60,000 over four years.
GI BILL KICKER
Enlisting (or extending) into certain critical MOSs can make you eligible for the GI Bill Kicker, which is just extra money (up to $350/month for officers) that you’ll receive each month. Added bonus: VA benefits, including the GI Bill and the GI Bill Kicker, are tax-free.
STUDENT LOAN REPAYMENT PROGRAM (SLRP)
This is available for certain contract extensions, primarily critical skills MOSs in specific states. That means even if you went to school before you joined the Guard, you still might be able to get the Guard to help you pay for college. If you’re eligible for SLRP, you’re talking about tens of thousands of dollars toward your loans.
Each state has a different tuition assistance policy, with some offering up to 100 percent tuition reimbursement. Just like the GI Bill, Soldiers can often get reimbursed for nondegree programs such as EMT certification programs or flight licensure programs. While maximum annual benefits vary, a full-time Guard student will receive thousands of dollars a year in reimbursed tuition. Remember, though, unlike GI Bill benefits, only actively drilling Soldiers are eligible for this.
FREE ONLINE EDUCATION
Another under-the-radar benefit, this is available to every Soldier. Many certification programs (from IT and computer software to project management) require you to have a certain number of hours of education to be eligible. Soldiers can perform the training and even get free test prep materials through the Guard’s online training portal (https://USArmy.SkillPort.com). There are hundreds of courses to take, from Microsoft Office product certifications to Six Sigma. These aren’t just valuable for Soldiers seeking certification, either—any professional education on your resume will help make you stand out from the crowd.
Example: A noncommissioned officer (NCO) seeks to get into the civilian field of project management. Instead of taking a $2,000 certification course at the local university, the Soldier takes the required 35 hours of professional education for free online.
CIVILIAN CAREER HELP
No matter your MOS, the Guard gives you valuable work experience. You can translate that experience into jobs in the civilian world, and the Guard can help you do it.
In the old days, it was common to get job experience, well, on the job. In today’s economy, with millions of workers unemployed or underemployed, almost any job opening will have already-qualified applicants. The Guard will not only hire you without already having skill in a certain job, it pays you to train those skills. And the skills you learn can open doors to civilian jobs.
JOB PLACEMENT ASSISTANCE
The Guard doesn’t just get you qualified for a job. It can help you find one. There are programs such as Troops to Teachers that help Soldiers find careers in the education field, or Helmets to Hardhats, which helps place military members in construction trade jobs. Most states even have Employment Assistance Offices that can help you write your resume, let you know about upcoming military-friendly job fairs, or get you connected with civilian recruiters looking for people with your skills.
Did you know your status as a Veteran can help you get a loan for a small business? Similar to the VA’s mortgage program, this VA benefit can help underwrite loans to acquire new products, pay employees (and yourself), or expand and develop property. Find more information at the Small Business Administration’s website: SBA.gov.
UPS, Lowe’s, Wells Fargo and many other companies around the country are looking for people with the skills that you’ve received in the Guard. And almost all government jobs (including state and local government) give preferential hiring to Veterans.
“Five years of management experience required.” How many times have you seen this qualification just to get looked at? But don’t assume that your Army experience doesn’t count. For example, NCOs are experts at personnel management, and their professional development courses are management training. Having a hard time making civilian hiring managers understand the value of your military expertise? Hiring Our Heroes is a U.S. Chamber of Commerce program that can help translate your experience into civilian-speak. When you know the right language, AIT becomes valuable job training, and you become more marketable.
QUALITY OF LIFE
Many Guard benefits put money in your pocket. Some Guard benefits do more—they actually improve your life directly. Whether you want to own a home, carry affordable health insurance or take your family on a once-in-a-lifetime vacation, your service can change your life in the best ways possible.
While the VA doesn’t actually give you a loan, it will guarantee a portion of a home loan for you (similar to having the U.S. government co-sign for you). Often, this will let Soldiers purchase a home with no money down and with a reduced interest rate. This interest rate reduction can easily save you tens of thousands over the course of your loan.
If you’re not lucky enough to have a civilian job that provides healthcare benefits, the cost of insurance is oppressive. Fortunately, your Guard service qualifies you for TRICARE Reserve Select, a low-cost option. For single Soldiers, it’s only $51.62 per month. For families, it’s $195.81 per month. This benefit will save you hundreds of dollars a month versus other civilian options.
TRAVEL AND VACATION
From early seating on flights to special rules for getting through airport security lines quickly, traveling is smoother as a member of the military. There are also programs such as the Armed Forces Vacation Club that connect military members with discounted stays at time-share locations around the world. There are also special vacation properties that allow only military members. Shades of Green, near Orlando’s Walt Disney World, is one. The Soldiers’, Sailors’, Marines’, Coast Guard and Airmen’s Club in midtown Manhattan is another, offering Soldiers a place to stay in New York City for as little as $45 a night for E-1s to E-3s.
Every Soldier is eligible for up to $400,000 of life insurance. Family members are eligible too, up to $100,000 for spouses. This low-cost insurance plan was developed by the VA to help Soldiers who might not be eligible for coverage under civilian plans.
In the civilian world, finding an employer that will pay you to stay in shape is almost unheard of. From PT at drill to promoting an overall healthy lifestyle, the Guard requires you to stay fit—and pays you to do so.
Guard Soldiers can fly for free on Air Force aircraft on a space-available (Space-A) basis. These free flights can be taken anywhere that the Air Force flies, which includes locations all across the country, and can even be used for leisure travel. If you are willing to be flexible, this benefit can let you travel across the country for free, saving hundreds of dollars versus airline flights.
ADVENTURE AND GROWTH
Life is about more than just money. Not all of the Guard’s benefits can be measured in dollars and cents—some of the most valuable things the Guard gives you don’t cost a dime. You probably joined the Guard for what it could do for you. Maybe the most valuable benefit of being in the Guard is what it does to you.
THE COOL FACTOR
Let’s face it: The average American could use a little more excitement in their life. As a Guard Soldier, you get to do things that most people only dream of. Whether you’re driving tanks, building bridges (or blowing them up), jumping out of airplanes, or getting paid to shoot machine guns at drill, your inner child gets to come out and play more than most.
A SENSE OF BELONGING
Human beings are social animals. Significant relationships are so important, scientists have found, that people who have them live longer. When you raised your hand and promised to serve your country, you gained access into an elite family. The men and women you serve with understand and care for you like very few in your life ever will.
A SENSE OF HONOR
Most people live their whole lives without doing something as significant as serving their country. No matter how long you serve, for the rest of your life you’ll be able to look back at your service and know that you did something worthwhile. How many others can say that?
The Guard has taught you what you’re capable of. Going into a sales meeting is nothing compared to giving a mission brief to a room full of officers. Sitting down at a job interview is nothing compared to sitting in a C-130 about to jump out with just a parachute. No matter what you do in the Guard, you’ve been challenged. You’ve grown, and you’ve experienced new things. Those experiences have made you a better version of you. And the longer you stay in, the more challenges you’ll conquer.
REVERENCE FOR YOUR COUNTRY
You don’t look for recognition of this quality of yours, but you’ll get it. Sometimes it’s the little things that mean the most. A small child looking up to you when you’re in a store in uniform. A friend thanking you for your service on special days. An older Vet buying you breakfast. Those are things you’ll never be able to put a price tag on. But you’ll remember them forever.
Ready to extend your service now? Talk to your Retention NCO for more on the process. To read more about the range of benefits offered, go to www.NATIONALGUARD.com/benefits