Well, I screwed up and missed an on-time post - but I have had good reason to be busy. On Friday, 17 May 2013, I was finally granted the honor of raising my right hand and swearing into the Texas State Guard as Specialist Webb. It's quite surreal, after resigning myself to never being able to serve in uniform, to finally have an actual military status. To be clear - the Texas Military Forces, as opposed to the federal military of the United States. I make this distinction because as a military force organized under title 32 of the US Code, the Texas State Guard is distinct from the US Army or US Army National Guard. While I am proud to be a soldier in the Texas State Guard, I readily acknowledge that my service is not the same as federal service - I will (most likely) not be deployed outside the CONUS to warm and friendly spots such as the ones my friends in federal service have been deployed to. That said, I'm now just as bound by the Texas Code of Military Justice as a federal soldier is by the UCMJ, and I can be prosecuted for the same things under the TCMJ that any other soldier would be held accountable for.
Why bring this up? There are those both in and out of uniform that look down on the Texas State Guard and State Defense Forces in general. They maintain that we are not "real" soldiers. Allow me a brief rebuttal - we are not, in and of ourselves, equivalent to active duty federal troops. This is evident in that we cannot afford to send our non-prior service troops to a 9-week recruit training followed by AIT (or OSUT) and we receive little or no weapons training in most cases. 99% of what we are expected to do consists of disaster response, shelter operations, food and water distribution and other "civil affairs" missions. We support National Guard troops at need, and often work with them - most especially our Air Wing.
So if we're not trained to go downrange and engage the enemy, what kind of soldiers are we? As you all know, I'm a student of military history. My first response to this question would be that we are soldiers in the greatest traditions of the United States. Citizen Soldiers. We hear that term quite a bit in certain circles, but to the jaded and the uninitiated alike it has lost its meaning over the years. What is a citizen soldier? What does that imply?
The average guardsman (or woman!) in my unit could be doing so many other things with their free time. Many of the officers and NCOs in my battalion are prior service. They've "done their bit for King and Country" and returned to civilian life. They have chosen to continue serving. We have law enforcement members, medical first responders, members of fire departments - all citizens who chose a life of service to their communities as a vocation, now serving further as a volunteer soldier. As a member of the Texas State Guard, each soldier is responsible for their own equipment, transportation to and from drills, and training time. We are not paid for monthly drills. The FEMA, Red Cross and other courses taken by members of the Guard are done on our own time away from drill. We only draw pay when deployed, or for part of the time during which we are at our Annual Training.
The sacrifice of time, money and commitment is directly analogous to the militia of the Colonies before our great nation became a nation. The rank of private comes from the term "private soldier" which at times in history denoted a soldier who served on the requirement that they provide their own equipment. These militia soldiers maintained their civilian lives in the full spectrum of occupations, reserving a portion of their time to train, drill and prepare for the day their services would be needed in a military capacity. These were not professional soldiers to the exclusion of all else - but they had a willingness to serve and make the necessary sacrifices that service required.
I may never be fired upon in the line of service. Indeed, I hope this is the case. Most people assume that it goes without saying that a member of the State Guard will never be in a combat situation. We are here to help our fellow Texans and others when floods, fires, hurricanes and other disasters occur. We train for those sort of events, and take great pride in the earning and wear of the Military Emergency Management Systems badge. That said, I know of more than one fellow guardsman who HAS been fired upon - sometimes during duty near the border, sometimes by looters and the like after a disaster.
The point is, as a cadre NCO who has earned my respect is fond of reminding is "Soldiering is inherently dangerous." I did not sign up with the Guard with the expectation that I would be toting an M4 in a combat zone. That is not our primary mission. I did sign up with an understanding - the understanding that taking the oath and putting on the uniform meant that should the need occur, I might well be placed in harm's way in the line of duty. The probability is that unlike one of my good friends who is in the US Army and has been fired upon, returned fire, and exposed to IEDs and all sorts of nastiness, I will never have to fire a shot in anger. That does not mean my service is guaranteed to be safe. We may not be facing the same kinds of threats, but each of us has to accept that the cautionary tale of the experienced Guard soliders might be us some day. We're not joining a civilian organization, and we must be aware of the possible ramifications of that decision.
You will not ever hear me saying that service in an SDF is equivalent to federal service. Those that choose soldiering as a vocation have my utmost respect and gratitude, and I am honored to share the uniform and traditions. At the same time I will defend vigorously the function and duties of my unit and my organization. We of the Texas State Guard have chosen to give our time and our money in the earnest desire to help our fellow Texans in time of need. We are, by legal definition, soldiers in the Texas Military Forces. Period. Does that mean we are the same kind of soldier the US Army sends overseas? No, but we are the kind of soldier who will be there when our community needs us - training as volunteers and procuring all the gear necessary to render aid. We are citizen soldiers in the grand traditions going back to the first colonial militias.
I have the fortune to serve with some incredible people. Soldiers who already served in Iraq, Afghanistan and many other places. Police, fire and EMTs looking for more ways in which to serve. Fresh-faced young college students looking to learn something about military life while continuing in their studies. One of the most amazing NCOs I've ever met is a former MP who is a real estate agent in civilian life. Another was a soldier in his native Norway before coming here, earning citizenship, and deciding to continue to serve his new country. It's incredible to watch this diverse group of citizen soldiers develop as a team in anticipation of the time when our communities will need us.
I look forward to serving in this way - the only way I can, thanks to my OSA.
So, Specialist Webb has reported. Hooah.