National Guard and Military Reserves Explained

The Texas National Guard works during Hurricane Ida response.
Tech Sergeant Joseph Baughn of the 149th Fighter Wing Texas Air National Guard helps cut up a tree in Raceland, La., during Hurricane Ida response Sept. 7, 2021. (Air National Guard/TSgt. Agustin G. Salazar)

The National Guard and Reserve fill vital roles in the U.S., augmenting the active-duty military services and filling specific needs nationwide. But how is the Guard and Reserve different from the regular military?

Active-duty military members work in the military full time, while regular Guard members and Reservists typically serve on a part-time basis. Both reservists and Guard members can serve on active-duty orders, known as Active Guard Reserve (AGR), or be deployed based on need.

What Is the Difference Between Guard and Reserve Service?

Each branch of the military has a reserve component whose main purpose is to have trained units available for active duty as needed.

The National Guard includes the Army National Guard and Air National Guard in each state, U.S. territory and the District of Columbia. National Guard units typically are controlled by the state, but they can be activated for federal duty and deployed.

Both Reserve and Guard units train, as known as drill, about one weekend a month plus two weeks a year for "annual training." Guard and Reserve members must serve a certain number of hours each year to make a "good year" to qualify for benefits and retirement.

Learn more about Guard and Reserve pay.

What is The National Guard?

The National Guard consists of two branches: the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard. 

Each U.S. state, territory and the District of Columbia has its own National Guard forces, funded through that entity’s budget. The primary job of the National Guard is to defend the location to which it belongs and respond to state disasters and needs, such as earthquakes, floods or pandemics. The National Guard of any given location can also be federalized, receiving federal funding and responding in support of federal needs. That means National Guard units might deploy in support of overseas operations.

What are the Reserves?

The military reserves are components of the active-duty military service branches. Unlike the National Guard, the reserves are always funded by the federal government. The reserve is meant to augment the needs of the active duty force in times of conflict or declared war.

Does the National Guard Get Paid More than the Reserve?

National Guard members and Reservists make the same amount of money for each drill period. The pay for each drill period typically changes annually. See the latest on Guard and Reserve pay. Guard and Reserve members also qualify for the same benefits when not activated. They also receive the same amount when deployed or activated on federal orders.

Which Military Services Have a Reserve Component?

Each brand of the military also has a reserve component. The Army Reserve, the Air Force Reserve, the Navy Reserve and the Marine Corps Reserve have stations and units throughout the U.S. Where a reservist goes for their drill weekend depends on what unit they are assigned to and where they live.

Learn more about joining the Guard and Reserve.

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