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Commentary Search

The Measure of 'Guard Family'

Maj. Jeffrey M. Bishop, chief, 131st Bomb Wing Public Affairs, poses for a “family portrait” along with more than 100 other Citizen-Airmen in his Guard Family, all members of the 131st Bomb Wing, during AT Week field training at Camp Clark near Nevada, Missouri, May 2016. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Halley Burgess)

Maj. Jeffrey M. Bishop, chief, 131st Bomb Wing Public Affairs, poses for a “family portrait” along with more than 100 other Citizen-Airmen in his Guard Family, all members of the 131st Bomb Wing, during AT Week field training at Camp Clark near Nevada, Missouri, May 2016. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Halley Burgess)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- "Whatever happened to our Guard Family?"

It's certainly a not-uncommon question to hear in our wings or our armories. If you've been in the Guard for more than a minute, you've likely heard someone bemoan the loss of a sense of "Guard Family" that once was uber-essential to the unit.

But in order to measure it - to try to see if there has in fact been a decrease - you'd first have to know what it is. 

If by Guard Family, people mean "the three Bs:" Barbecue, Beer and B.S. (said differently: "war stories"), then they might be right: in some units, we probably enjoy social camaraderie a bit less than we used to. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing on trend, enjoying those things isn't all that makes us a family.

The notion of Guard Family is quite an enigma, even to the crustiest senior NCO or to the longest-toothed colonel in your unit - I know, because I've seen them try to describe it. So if they can't easily tell you, then how are you or I supposed to explain it to new unit members; to our real family members; to civilian co-workers; or to active duty or Reserve counterparts?

As I've come to appreciate over my years in my unit, there are a few concrete things that don't define Guard Family, but that do contribute somewhat to the concept. As such, perhaps when considered, they can provide a reliable yardstick by which to measure whether we've lost it or not? In my first-hand experience:

· Guard Family is what compels so many Airman to stay for years - even for a career or beyond.

She stays, even though her unit is four hours from home and she has to leave her real family one weekend a month and at least two weeks a year. Because the Guard Family is family, too.

· The Guard Family demands Excellence in all we ARE. 

This includes who we are in our full-time roles, in our communities and with our families, as well as in uniform.

· You'll make fast friends in the Guard Family ...

... but you'll also the forge the deepest, strongest and longest-standing friendships of any that you'll have.

· Family is there for family in hard times. 

In recent headlines, Wisconsin Guardsmen helped stabilize their Milwaukee community and Louisiana Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen saved lives and protected property from floods that ravaged that state.

When ice storms come or the earth trembles or the winds gale here in Missouri, my local family knows that its Guard Family will be there for them, too.

· The nature of a family is to grow, together: to grow up, to celebrate each other, to sometimes mourn and to invariably work through tough times - with the best of families being better for it all.

As "head of household" in a Guard Family of eight Airmen, we have "adopted" three new members, promoted five and sent three off into the wider world. We've celebrated a handful of awards, two graduations, a wedding and three babies. We've grieved the passing of six parents and a grandma; slogged together through challenging, unprecedented missions; and huddled one another through difficult illnesses of three spouses. All in just the past three years.

There have been a few tears, but there's also been a ton of laughter. And indeed, we're better for it!

· The Guard Family is the family you get to choose - and the family that chooses you.

They say you can pick your friends, but not your family.  With the Guard, you get to do both.  When you first considered joining, your Guard recruiter had to have the utmost integrity in what she sold you on -- because she knew she'd see you every drill for the next four-to-twenty years. But it's a two-way street: the Guard also insists on the luxury of being highly selective about those it accepts and about those it keeps - so be proud to belong!

What other standards would you add to the list? And if you still think otherwise, by what different yardstick do you measure Guard Family?

By how I see things, these seem to be some of the real things that help us define Guard Family. And despite longstanding rumors of its demise, by this measure, I'd contend that there always has been - and always will be - a keen sense of Family in our Guard.