CHARLESTON, W.Va. —
It’s not unusual during my travels across West Virginia as the adjutant general to meet second-generation National Guardsmen. In fact, it’s quite common to bump into a citizen-soldier or airman who is the parent or offspring of another member of the force.
This happens with such regularity that the significance of it has sailed right past me. It’s as normal as a salute. As common as a fresh haircut. But during my morning run recently, it struck me that, for many, the Guard is the family business.
This realization had eluded me, perhaps, because I’m too close to it. My sons, Drew and Jacob, are both Guardsmen. Several members of my senior staff are either sons or daughters of Guardsmen or parents of adult children wearing the uniform.
And there is nothing unique about West Virginia. It’s true across the 54 states and territories. We recognize and say often that families are the backbone of what we do, providing the stability that allows a Guard member to succeed at both a military career and a civilian one. But we don’t often give particular recognition to those families that don’t stop sacrificing after only one retirement ceremony.
My wife, Amy, for example, plays two roles in our family. As a wife, she puts up with my ridiculous op-tempo, where missed dinners and weekend absences are in the job description. But I’ve seen the stress she bears when one of our sons is called to his military duty. It’s a worry unique to mothers.
As I continued that morning run, I pondered the reason for this. Why do children of Guardsmen follow a parent into the force? After all, they’ve endured the lost weekends of drill when Dad or Mom was away. And it was their parent who couldn’t attend a piano recital or baseball game. So they know the perils.
Yet, when they are old enough, they sign the paper, take the oath and head off to basic training.
For one thing, it’s human nature for a child to emulate a parent. They want to be like us. But, also, they grow up with a pride that Mom or Dad—or both; yes, it happens—serves something greater than themselves and even their family. From an early age, they see the reward that comes with sacrifice and notice the respect shown the parent wearing the uniform.
They realize that that parent is doing something pretty darn important and living up to a set of standards that is becoming harder and harder to find. Thinking of it that way, perhaps the wonder is not that children follow parents into the Guard, but why more don’t take that route.
The nation can do more for the families of our military members, and not just those within the Guard. The services fill their ranks with 1 percent of the population. That means, of course, that only a tiny percentage of American families know what is required to keep the nation safe and secure.
In my position as National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS) Chairman, I have written extensively about making families a priority and that can be accomplished by pushing for TRICARE as a full-time, no cost benefit for National Guardsmen with low-cost coverage available for their families. It is my belief that this is not only a good recruiting tool, but it is simply the right thing to do for the spouses and children, who make a sacrifice unknown to the majority of Americans.
In the meantime, I’m sure that sons and daughters of Guardsmen will continue to follow in the footsteps of their parents. They won’t be chasing the tangible benefits that come with wearing the uniform. Rather, they will be seeking the same sense of fulfillment they saw in Mom’s eyes or Dad’s bearing when returning from a task on behalf of their state and nation.