When I separated from active duty Air Force, part of my out-processing steps was to visit both the Air National Guard recruiters and the Air Force reserves recruiters. To be honest, I had no intention of joining either one because of my life’s new direction and my service connected disabilities would make it difficult to serve. But as I visited both services, I did have to ask the question: what was the difference between the two? Two of the major answers were funding and mission.
Funding. The biggest difference I learned is that the Air Force Reserves and Air National Guard come from two different funding pools. The Air Force Reserves are federally funded, while the Air National Guard is state funded. After speaking with members of both services, whoever is funding you can impact your quality of service and affect your pay. When a federal budget cut happens, it’s possible that traditional Air Force reservists may be put on inactive ready reserve and not called into work due to a lack of funding. It also limits the ability to put reservists on what’s referred to as “man days”. That funding supports having a reservist on assignment for more than one weekend a month or two weeks a year. If your Air Force reserve unit has a high impact mission but not enough money to support the manning, you could be working extra hard during regular shifts.
On the other hand, a reserve unit who maintains a healthy budget can have more opportunities to serve for its members. One example is overseas tours. Units with good funding can support sending their members on lengthy training tours in countries like Japan or Germany.
Budget issues could happen with the Air National Guard as well, but the funding is state-by-state. A well-funded unit may be subject to a well-funded state even if the Federal government is short-falling on funding. A well-funded National Guard unit could provide great education benefits for members who attend school in-state.
Missions. The Air Force Reserves are designed to support Active duty Air Force missions worldwide. The Air Force Reserves also have several units assigned on Active duty Air Force bases as direct counterparts. If the Active duty Air Force is called to deploy hundreds of troops from Joint Base Charleston to support missions in Afghanistan, for example, the Air Force Reserve units on that base will back-fill for any Active duty Airmen that leave and may even deploy along with them. Some bases even prepare for these types of scenarios by having the Air Force Reserve units “take over” active duty operations for the entire weekend.
While the Air National Guard is no stranger to supporting worldwide missions for the active duty Air Force, their primary mission is to support state-based operations so the commander in chief is the state governor. To support in national missions, the state governor has to officially release command to the President of the United States.
Otherwise, it’s possible for Air National Guard to be called upon to help out with state national disasters. When Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana in 2006, Louisiana’s Air National Guard was called upon to help with rescue efforts.
While there are other nuances and differences between both services, many of the benefits are similar. In fact, both the Air Force Reserves and Air National Guard fall under the same rules and regulations as active duty Air Force once you put on the uniform. Hopefully by understanding the mission and funding differences you can make a more informed choice.