Guard and Reserves – The Essentials

National Guardsman salutes the flag.

Joining the National Guard or reserves is a good way to stay connected to the benefits of military life while fully participating in civilian life. Reserve duty is also a viable path to military retirement which can be obtained through 20 years of combined active and reserve duty.

Here are some things to consider as you evaluate your options:

Are the reserves right for you?

Reserve duty can do more than fulfill your obligation. It’s also a good way to keep one foot in the military community and one foot in the civilian world. As a reservist, you can be connected to the benefits of military life and civilian life at the same time. Find out if reserve duty is right for you by reading Is Your Next Step Joining the Reserves? Get the Basics.

Know your benefits

Don’t let benefits you’ve earned slip through your fingers just because you’re in the National Guard or reserves. Guard and reserve members can take advantage of benefits and services offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs, just like their active-duty counterparts. The VA can help Guard and reserve members cover the cost of school, secure a home loan or acquire life insurance. Learn more in these resources:

Understand your special benefits: Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn service members

Active-duty, Guard or reserve service members returning from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn deserve the easiest possible transition back to civilian life. To thank service members for their sacrifice, the Department of Veterans Affairs provides a variety of services and benefits, such as ongoing medical insurance, tuition assistance, options to keep your life insurance and readjustment counseling. Learn more about Veterans Affairs Benefits for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn Transitioning Service Members.


Information is power when it comes to a successful separation or transition from the military. Find out more about National Guard and reserve benefits in the following resources:

Military OneSource provides an array of services to help you conclude your life as an active-duty service member and advance to the next step. Call 800-342-9647 for specialty consultations or to connect to a variety of other resources. You can also use OCONUS dialing options, or schedule a live chat

When Your Guard or Reserve Service Member is Called to Active Duty

Service member with ballistic glasses looks into the distance

Your spouse or partner is preparing for deployment and transitioning from reserve status to active duty. Take advantage of several deployment support programs. They can help you with everything from mobilization to your service member’s reintegration. The following support services are available to assist you during this deployment:

  • Command communications
  • Military and Family Support Center
  • Yellow Ribbon events and family readiness activities
  • Military OneSource
  • Family Assistance Centers
  • Your unit’s family support staff and volunteer network

Command communications

Your command leadership will provide information to you as efficiently as possible through a unit website, email, a toll-free number and or automated multimedia communication systems.

Military family support websites

The Department of Defense and each branch of the military provides online information for military families, including those in the National Guard and reserves. These websites will tell you about:

Contact Military OneSource 24/7.

You can get personalized help 365 days a year by telephone and online.

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Yellow Ribbon events and family readiness activities

Military commands typically host Yellow Ribbon events to help families prepare for and stay strong during and after a deployment. The Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program can:

  • Prepare service members and families for deployment
  • Sustain them during deployment
  • Provide information and support for reintegration

At pre-deployment events, you and your service member will learn about benefits and support, such as:

  • Military pay
  • Financial readiness
  • Family care plans
  • Family support through the military

Events during deployment provide information and outreach to family members to help with the impact of separation and connect you with other families going through the deployment. Family and deployment readiness means knowing and using the resources available to you. During a deployment, you may:

  • Have financial or legal questions
  • Need support for your children
  • Have concerns about your emotional well-being
  • Want to connect with other military families

After service members return home, Yellow Ribbon activities help families reconnect and readjust. Participate in these activities and get information on:

  • Communication challenges
  • Relationship stress
  • Combat stress
  • Department of Veterans Affairs benefits
  • Employment

Ask questions and receive information answers from briefings and group discussions. You’ll also meet unit leaders, family support professionals and volunteers who will be important resources during the deployment. Check out Yellow Ribbon events online and Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program.

Family Assistance Centers

Family Assistance Centers are located in every state to serve geographically dispersed military families. They provide information, outreach and referrals to services in your community and serve all active and reserves service members and families.

Installation family support programs

Immediate family members of active duty National Guard or reserve members are entitled to use services at military installations. These resources offer a variety of professional support services, and information and referrals to community resources. The centers include:

  • Marine Corps Community Services
  • Fleet and Family Support Centers
  • Airman and Family Readiness Centers

Use MilitaryINSTALLATIONS to find contact information.

Unit family support staff and volunteer network

National Guard and reserve commands have organized family support systems of staff and volunteers, such as:

  • Family assistance coordinators
  • Family readiness assistants
  • Family readiness officers
  • Other designated family support specialists

It’s easier to ask for help when you need it if you get to know key staff and volunteers before your service member deploys.

Support for children

There are many forms of support available to National Guard and reserve parents, children and caregivers, including:

Use these programs and resources to help your children cope with the emotions that can come with having a deployed parent.

Seek community support

Look for support outside the military community — neighbors, coworkers, school personnel or leaders in your religious organization about any support services they offer or recommend.

Take care of yourself

Don’t forget to take care of yourself during your loved one’s deployment. Remember that family separations and deployment can be an opportunity to nurture your own physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.

Plan for your deployment

Manage the deployment process by knowing as much as you can about your benefits and support resources available. Be proactive about getting support at home before, during and after your partner’s deployment to ensure a positive experience.

Joining the Military as a Reservist: Eligibility, Obligation and Benefits

Two service members speak with a woman

Joining the Reserve Component of the military is a great way to serve your country. You will also earn valuable benefits without giving up your civilian employment or schooling.

New to the Military

Military OneSource has the information, tools and resources you’ll need to transition smoothly and quickly to military life.

Many people transfer to the reserves from the Active Component. But you can join the National Guard or military reserves without prior military experience. There are small differences among the Army National Guard, Army Reserve, Navy Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve and the Coast Guard Reserve. But most have the same requirements, obligations and federal benefits. National Guard members who perform state active duty are eligible for state benefits.

Am I eligible to join the National Guard or military reserves?

You must meet these minimum requirements to join the National Guard or military reserves:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or resident alien.
  • Be between the ages of 17 and 42 (general requirement range; age varies by branch).
  • Pass an armed forces physical exam.
  • Pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test.
  • Meet the minimum ASVAB eligibility standard. You must receive a sufficient score on the ASVAB composite called the Armed Forces Qualification Test.

Each branch or specific job may have other requirements in addition to those listed above.

How do I join the National Guard or military reserves?

The first step is to contact a recruiter. Your recruiter will explain the process and available opportunities. Speaking with recruiters from different branches can help you get an idea of which branch you would like to join. You can also find out more information at the recruiting websites for each branch:

The process could go quickly or slowly, depending on different factors. Sometimes you can get through the requirements very quickly. It can also take weeks or months from when you first contact a recruiter to when you leave for your military training.

What’s my obligation if I join the National Guard or military reserves?

Joining the military reserves or National Guard is a significant time commitment. This is true, especially at the beginning. You will get settled in your permanent unit. Then, you can expect to attend unit assembly, known as “drill,” one weekend per month. You will also participate in a two-week annual training each year.

  • Initial training: As a new military member, you will attend your branch’s basic military training. That may last from eight to 12 weeks. Depending on your job, you may also attend an advanced training course.
  • Monthly drill: You’ll need to drill for 48 periods or units per year. Most units drill one weekend per month. A typical weekend drill has four periods. Some military units have additional drilling requirements, which may include the weekday.
  • Annual training: You’ll also need to participate in annual training for two weeks per year.
  • Activations: You may be activated to full-time service in a voluntary or involuntary status. This can be with your unit or individually. These activations may vary in length and location. They may include 30 days in a unit near your hometown. Or up to a year supporting a mission outside of the United States. Generally, you cannot opt out of involuntary action. This is because the military has ordered you to active service.
  • Length of commitment: Your total contract may range from three to eight years. This depends on the branch of service and your specific occupation/job.

What kind of benefits will I earn?

For your commitment to the National Guard or military reserves, you’ll receive many benefits including:

  • Part-time pay: Reserve Component pay is based on rank and service time. Bonuses are sometimes available for high-demand and low-density skills. Your pay will be based upon the Active Duty Pay Table during full-time and annual training, and active duty. You will receive prorated payment while on partial month duty. This will be calculated using the daily rate. Learn more about Basic Pay, the fundamental component of military pay.
  • Skills training: You’ll be trained for your Reserve Component job. The selection of jobs available will depend on the needs of the military and your ASVAB scores.
  • Health care coverage: TRICARE Reserve Select is subsidized, fee-based health care coverage. It is for reservists and their families when the military member is not on active-duty orders. Reservists on active duty for more than 30 days receive comprehensive medical and dental care at no cost. While their service member is activated for more than 30 days, family members receive health care coverage.
  • Education: Selected Reserve or National Guard members who have signed up for at least six years, can access up to three years of educational assistance. This benefit is available through the Montgomery GI Bill® for Selected Reserve. Additional funding may be available for certain high-demand fields. Reservists may also earn Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, which may be transferred to eligible dependents when certain eligibility criteria are met.
  • Commissary and exchange privileges: Reserve Component members and their eligible dependents have full-time access to on-base shopping. This includes the discounted food and department stores.
  • Retirement: Service in the Reserve Component earns points toward a reserve retirement.

Joining the National Guard or military reserves can be a great way to serve your country without leaving your full-time job. Once you decide to join, you can learn more about your new community. See Military OneSource’s New to the Military resources. Military OneSource can answer your questions about military life. Call 800-342-9647 or connect via Live Chat 24/7/365. OCONUS/International? Click here for calling options.

National Guard and Reserves Reintegration

National Guardsman salutes the flag.

You’re coming home after a deployment. It’s been a long time coming and you deserve to celebrate. But it’s important to know what other adjustments you might face post-deployment.

Heads up: what to expect

Returning service members can expect some challenges reintegrating. While other service members return to a military community where others have “been there, done that,” members of the National Guard and reserve go back to the civilian work force. Civilians generally don’t understand deployment. As a result: you may have a thin support network at the workplace.

Regardless of your military status, there are several tips that may be helpful to service members returning from deployment. These include: talking with others, being patient with yourself and those around you, and knowing when to seek help. More on helpful steps.

Tips for reentry

Let’s face it, change is hard. You’ll be reentering into family and personal life, as well as work. At work, you’ll face changes. This may range from new coworkers and different policies and procedures to new programs and leadership changes.

You may feel different about your old job. The intensity and teamwork of combat duty can do that. This is normal and part of reintegration — it’s the final stage of the deployment cycle. Here are steps you can take to ease your transition back to work:

  • Meet with your supervisor. Before returning to work, discuss your duties and what’s new on the job. This can help make your first day easier. It takes time to ease back in. Ask about a plan to reenter your job.
  • Know your rights. The Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act protects employed National Guard and reserve service members called to active duty. Learn about your rights via Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve website.
  • Connect with Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program. A great resource for National Guard and reserve members and their families that is helpful throughout the deployment cycle, including reentry to work.
  • Thank others. Showing appreciation to coworkers who filled in for you can go a long way. The support and workplace insight they may provide can help you.

Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program

Bookmark the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program as one of your favorites. The program is all about helping you and your family find what you need before, during and after deployment.

A one-stop source for all things deployment

Yellow Ribbon is an effort across the Department of Defense to promote the well-being of National Guard and reserve members, their families and communities by connecting them with resources throughout the deployment cycle.

Providing deployment-cycle information, resources and programs, Yellow Ribbon can help you address the unique challenges facing you and your family. This includes helping you connect with the military support networks and the deployment resources available to active service members.

Via Yellow Ribbon events, service members and loved ones connect with local resources before, during and after deployments. Reentry during post-deployment is a critical time for members of the National Guard and reserve. Yellow Ribbon can help.

Besides practical advice, Yellow Ribbon can help National Guard and reserve service members and their families to sort out:

  • Health care
  • Education
  • Employment
  • Financial and legal benefits

Remember, the military approach to solving problems may not work at your civilian job. Cutting yourself and others a break can help you to reenter normal life. Many employers will work with veterans to help them transition back into the workplace.

As a National Guard or reserve service member, you can also receive confidential, non-medical counseling and support through Military OneSource regardless of your activation status.

How to Use the Military Tuition Assistance Program

A row of graduates sit in the caps and gowns

If you’ve thought about going to college, but didn’t know if you could afford it, then the Military Tuition Assistance program may be just the benefit you need. The program is available to active duty, National Guard and Reserve Component service members. While the decision to pursue a degree may be a difficult one personally, TA can lessen your financial concerns considerably, since it now pays up to 100% of tuition expenses for semester hours costing $250 or less.

Courses and degree programs may be academic or technical and can be taken from two- or four-year institutions on-installation, off-installation or by distance learning. An accrediting body recognized by the Department of Education must accredit the institution. Your service branch pays your tuition directly to the school. Service members need to first check with an education counselor for the specifics involving TA by visiting their local installation education office or by going online to a virtual education center. Tuition assistance may be used for the following programs:

  • Vocational/technical programs
  • Undergraduate programs
  • Graduate programs
  • Independent study
  • Distance-learning programs


All four service branches and the U.S. Coast Guard offer financial assistance for voluntary, off-duty education programs in support of service members’ personal and professional goals. The program is open to officers, warrant officers and enlisted active-duty service personnel. In addition, members of the National Guard and Reserve Components may be eligible for TA based on their service eligibility. To be eligible for TA, an enlisted service member must have enough time remaining in service to complete the course for which he or she has applied. After the completion of a course, an officer using TA must fulfill a service obligation that runs parallel with – not in addition to – any existing service obligation.

Coverage amounts and monetary limits

The Tuition Assistance Program may fund up to 100% of your college tuition and certain fees with the following limits

  • Not to exceed $250 per semester credit hour or $166 per quarter credit hour
  • Not to exceed $4,500 per fiscal year, Oct. 1 through Sept. 30

Tuition assistance versus the Department of Veterans Affairs education benefits

While the TA program is offered by the services, the Department of Veterans Affairs administers a variety of education benefit programs. Some of the VA programs, such as the Post-9/11 Veterans Education Assistance Act of 2008, also known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, can work well with the TA program, as it can supplement fees not covered by TA. In addition, the Post-9/11 GI Bill® funds are available to you after you leave the military. If your service ended before Jan. 1, 2013, you have 15 years to use this benefit. If your service ended on or after Jan. 1, 2013, the benefit won’t expire. The TA program is a benefit that is available only while you’re in the service.

Tuition assistance benefits and restrictions

Tuition assistance will cover the following expenses:

  • Tuition
  • Course-specific fees such as laboratory fee or online course fee

NOTE: All fees must directly relate to the specific course enrollment of the service member.

Tuition assistance will not cover the following expenses:

  • Books and course materials
  • Flight training fees
  • Taking the same course twice
  • Continuing education units, or CEUs

Keep in mind that TA will not fund your college courses, and you will have to reimburse any funds already paid, if any of the following situations occur:

  • Leaving the service before the course ends
  • Quitting the course for reasons other than personal illness, military transfer or mission requirements
  • Failing the course

Application process

Each military branch has its own TA application form and procedures. To find out how to get started, visit your local installation education center, go online to a virtual education center or click on the following links for each service branch:

Prior to your course enrollment, you may be required to develop an education plan or complete TA orientation. Be sure to keep the following important information in mind when you apply:

  • Military tuition assistance may only be used to pursue degree programs at colleges and universities in the United States that are regionally or nationally accredited by an accrediting body recognized by the U.S Department of Education. A quick way to check the accreditation of a school is by visiting the Department of Education.
  • Your service’s education center must approve your military tuition assistance before you enroll in a course.

Top-up program

The Top-up program allows funds from the Montgomery GI Bill — Active Duty or the Post-9/11 GI Bill – to be used for tuition and fees for high-cost courses that are not fully covered by TA funds.

  • Eligibility. To use Top-up, your service branch must approve you for TA. You also must be eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill or the Montgomery GI Bill — Active Duty.
  • Application. First apply for TA in accordance with procedures of your service branch. After you have applied for TA, you will need to complete VA Form 22-1990 to apply for Department of Veterans Affairs education benefits. The form is available online from the VA. Make sure you specify “Top-up” on the application and mail it to one of the education processing offices listed on the form.

Other supplemental funding possibilities

Aside from using the MGIB-AD or Post-9/11 GI Bill for items such as tuition and fees not covered by TA, there are other funding opportunities available to service members, including the following:

  • Federal and state financial aid. The federal government provides $150 billion per year in grants, work-study programs and federal loans to college students. The aid comes in several forms, including need-based programs such as Pell grants, subsidized Stafford Loans, Supplemental Educational Opportunity grants and federal work/study programs. You can also get low-interest loans through the federal government. Visit Federal Student Aid to find out more or complete an online application for FAFSA at no cost to you.