Army Specialist Allie A. Irving of Garden City, Mich. extends her service contract one year during a Stay Guard Assembly event in Aug. 2020. Close to earning her Masters in social work, Irving learned how she can receive a commission and become a Behavioral Health Officer in the Michigan Army National Guard.
By Bruce J. Huffman
LANSING, Mich.— Readiness is the foundation of the Michigan Army National Guard, and it’s the responsibility of commanders at all levels to ensure their units are mission capable. With more than 8,000 Soldiers at 41 readiness centers throughout the state, Michigan has a lot of boots to fill to maintain readiness levels. Finding new talent is always tough, in 2020 it’s been even tougher! The increased operational tempo due to COVID-19, and the inability of recruiters to get face-to-face with new prospects, has made filling mission essential positions a challenge. For that reason, the Recruiting and Retention Battalion is focused on keeping the talent it already has, and that’s what Stay Guard Assembly is about.
The Michigan Army National Guard has been called-up numerous times in 2020 to provide assistance for events such as the flooding in central Michigan, distribute PPE, provide support for civil disturbances, distribute food at local pantries, and support of the state’s ongoing COVID-19 testing mission. Michigan’s citizen-soldiers are committed professionals, with strong ties to the communities in which they live and serve, but for some, this part-time commitment has evolved into a full-time obligation that has them contemplating leaving the Army.
Stay Guard Assembly is a tool that helps identify Soldiers eligible for reenlistment who are within the 180 day window of their expiration-term of service date, but have not reenlisted or extended yet. These Soldiers are required to attend a Stay Guard Assembly event at the Joint Forces Headquarters (JFHQ) in Lansing, where they can discuss their plans with career counselors and learn what opportunities are available.
“Talent management must include professional development and training opportunities that help Guardsmen set and achieve career goals, while supporting the organization’s mission,” said Army Brig. Gen. Lawrence Schloegl, Michigan National Guard assistant adjutant general for Army. “It’s our responsibility to effectively manage the opportunities available to our people, and ensure Michigan National Guard is a workplace of choice.”
The Guard routinely fills top positions from within its ranks and mentors and trains junior members, an incentive that encourages and rewards long-term service. This ‘member-for-life’ approach gives Soldiers maximum control over their career progression, and improves readiness by managing talent at the individual level. The Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency is spearheading an aggressive campaign to attract service members transitioning off active duty to join the Michigan National Guard.
“It is more advantageous for us to retain Soldiers both from a cost measure and the skillset that they already have and can provide to their unit and the Michigan Army National Guard,” said Army Maj. Jason Corner, executive officer Recruiting and Retention Battalion.
“At Stay Guard Assembly, representatives from units throughout the state explain what they do and what jobs are available. If a Soldier meets those qualifications they can be considered to go into that job, which could potentially lead to them reenlisting or extending their current service obligation,” said Corner. “The Soldier has an opportunity to try something else before they get out. It’s a win-win situation.”
Membership in the Army National Guard has its privileges. At Stay Guard, Soldiers are briefed on the benefits and current opportunities available to them. Many are surprised to learn just how many benefits and options there are, such as: possible extension/retention bonuses, training and promotion opportunities, commissioned officer and warrant officer programs, and full-time technician opportunities.
Soldiers are encouraged to bring their families to participate in the decision-making process. “We recommend they calculate how much it would cost to replace the benefits they currently have should they decide to get out,” said Corner.
Other benefits provided by the National Guard include: competitive pay and allowances, Tri-Care health, dental, and life insurance, tuition assistance, student loan repayment, the GI Bill, retirement pay, and VA benefits after service. According to Corner, there are additional benefits that National Guard members don’t typically think of such as: accessing military posts and facilities with your military ID to use the commissary, the Base Exchange, base gyms and base medical facilities. Morale Welfare and Recreation programs provide military families with discounted lodging and camping opportunities at recreation facilities around the world. The Michigan Army National Guard even provides legal services and financial planning to its members.
If a Soldier decides they want to extend their contract or reenlist during the Stay Guard Assembly, there are human resources personnel on-hand to process the paperwork immediately, and the Soldier can be sworn-in that day.
Specialist Allie A. Irving from Garden City, Michigan attended the Stay Guard event in Aug., and was considering getting out of the Army National Guard after six years. She has nearly completed her master’s degree in social work and was considering leaving the Guard to pursue counseling opportunities in other states. After speaking with Capt. Rebecca L. Rodriquez, Officer Strength Manager at JFHQ, Irving learned there was a direct commissioning opportunity available to licensed counselors who hold that degree. “She didn’t know it, but she could actually receive a direct commission as a 2nd Lt. and become a Behavioral Health Officer,” said Rodriguez.
Specialist Irving extended her contract for one year to pursue this option, and is looking forward to continuing her military career. “There’s a lot more for me to do,” said Irving. “I can maximize my benefits to help pay for my master’s (degree).”
“We have a lot of eligible officer prospects in our formations, but they don’t always know what is available to them,” said Rodriguez. “We have attorneys, medical professionals, and even folks who are studying for seminary. A professional with a Master of Divinity could be eligible to become a chaplain. Stay Guard is an awesome opportunity to show qualified Soldiers how they can further their military career by commissioning either as a warrant officer or an O-Grade officer,” said Rodriguez.
The Michigan Army National Guard stood up the mandatory Stay Guard Assembly approximately five years ago, and retention numbers have improved every year. According to Corner, the Michigan Army National Guard has risen to 10th in the nation in assigned strength since the program began, with about 30 percent of Stay Guard attendees choosing to extend or reenlist. Michigan’s Air National Guard recently implemented their own Stay Guard Assembly program to better inform its Airmen.
For more information about Michigan Army National Guard opportunities, visit the Michigan Army National Guard website at: www.miarmyguard.com or call 1-888-906-1636 to get in touch with your local recruiter.