ARLINGTON, Va. – This month marks the 50th anniversary of the National Guard's technician program, which provides for a full-time element to maintain readiness in units throughout the Guard.
"The program is important to the National Guard because of readiness, which in our business, can easily mean life or death for those in the community," said Army Maj. Benjamin Andrasik, a human resources specialist with the National Guard Bureau's Technician Personnel Division. "It really ties military life to civilian life, which is what the National Guard is all about at the end of the day."
A result of the National Guard Technician Act of 1968, the program went into effect Jan. 1, 1969, and created dual-status technicians – federal, civilian employees required to maintain a military membership with a Guard unit as part of their employment. Though they fill a civilian-status role, technicians are required to wear a military uniform and adhere to military customs and courtesies.
"The technician program is a full-time cadre that organizes, administers, instructs or trains National Guard [members]," said Adriene Dallas, head of the NGB's labor branch, adding that recognizing "the military requirements and the state characteristics" of the Guard was instrumental in creating the law.
Before the program's creation, most technicians were state employees, which often meant different standards in different states, said Andrasik.
"If you have a technician in Arizona and one in Maryland with different benefits doing the same job – there is a little bit of disparity there," he said. The technician act, he added, provided "a blanket of uniform entitlements that are available to all technicians nationwide."
Those in the technician program augment Soldiers and Airmen who are part of the Active Guard and Reserve program, which allows Guard members to serve full-time, typically within their unit of assignment.
Technicians fill a different role than their AGR counterparts, said Angela Mullins, acting chief of the employment and pay branch with the NGB, and the roles of each are delineated by legislative oversight.
"Our current authorities and differences among employment categories are based on statute," said Mullins.
Technicians often oversee or work in broad areas such as vehicle and equipment maintenance or personnel, whereas AGR members are often responsible for readiness in specific units.
The end result, said Andrasik, ensures an easy transition when units deploy or are called up for large-scale exercises or emergency response.
"You are going into battle, or whatever your mission is, [and] you have somebody who is ready to go tomorrow," said Andrasik.
This is important, he said, so the Guard can maintain high readiness levels to support national-level missions while also meeting state requirements.
A lot has changed since 1969, including both the Guard and the technician program.
"For example, five years ago we would have never had cyber [positions]," said Mullins. "We're getting different types of responsibilities and technologies that are forcing the change and the types of [technician] positions that we have and the role of these positions."
The program, which includes more than 60,000 technicians throughout the Guard, is flexible enough to handle those changes, said Andrasik, adding that the adjutant general in each state is able to structure technician positions to meet the needs of Guard units in that state.
That allows for an easy way to take on new roles and responsibilities, said Mullins.
"The more roles the National Guard takes [on], the more the technician program will have to change to accommodate these new responsibilities that we assume," she said.
Though the technician act standardized the technician program throughout the Guard, some states may still have state technicians. Those individuals, said Mullins, are state employees who fall outside the purview of the federal technician program and are specific to that individual state.
Regardless of changes the program may see, Mullins said its relevance remains intact.
"Technicians have an important role in the warfight," she said. "They are there to maintain the training and administration. They help maintain mission readiness."