09 March 2012

Book Review: 'National Guard 101'

There's an instruction manual for every job, weapon, and vehicle for those who enlist in the U.S. National Guard, but precious few published resources who marry into it. For the most part, everything has been passed down by word of mouth. It's all been tribal wisdom, gossip, and war stories. Until now.

Author Mary Corbett, a spouse with ties to the Minnesota and Georgia National Guards, has written "National Guard 101: A Handbook for Spouses". In 205 pages, Corbett cuts through acronyms and agencies, histories and traditions to deliver practical insights for National Guard families in a breezy, conversational manner.

"If your Soldier peruses this book, s/he may chuckle at my oversimplification in some areas," Corbett warns in her introduction. "That's fine because this book is for you. That's all a big fancy disclaimer that means consider this more of an essay than a research paper." [ix]

While she gets around to talking about brigades and big-wig party functions, Corbett aims squarely at the 150-person company level—the organizational building-block of the U.S. Army.

She briefly addresses Air National Guard concepts, because many social functions and stateside operations are neither "green" (ground/Army) nor "blue" (air/Air Guard) but "purple" (joint).

Families of new soldiers, as well as those of newly promoted non-commissioned officers and company-grade officers have the most to gain from Corbett's presentation. Even families who have weathered multiple deployments, however, may learn some useful tricks.

Corbett explains the basics with enough detail to be useful, but not intimidating. She applies liberal amounts of humor and word-play. (A field training exercise is "going to the woods." Annual Training is "going to camp.") Topics include:
  • How a National Guard soldier can be either part-time or full-time, on either state or federal duty, or work as a civilian federal technician.
  • What your soldier does in his/her military job, and how to describe it to civilians.
  • How to introduce yourself and find the right person when you walk into an armory.
  • Survival skills and strategies for military events. ("Do NOT let your soldier tell you want to wear.")
Best of all, she offers spouses practical tips on how to build support systems that will work during deployments. As with most things military, there's an acronym involved.

There are five kinds of people, Corbett writes:
  • Those who say they will help but really don't want to help ...
  • Those who offer help but put the ball back in your court ...
  • Those who offer help on their own terms ...
  • Those who will help you, but make you feel guilty about it ...
  • Those who are always there, ready and willing to help with anything.
Military spouses don't like to ask for help. No one does. But the ideal type of helpers who are "always there" are few and far-between.

Corbett's solution? Collect them all. Create a Personal Assistance League ("PAL")—a list of 10 or more people who are explicitly committed to helping out with small tasks, like babysitting, or leaf-raking, or cooking meals. She even recommends nominating a "mother hen" to help reach out to people, on the phone or in writing, asking for a concrete commitment.

In Army-speak, Corbett may have cracked the code on how to operationalize people's good-intentions. By establishing expectations and requirements up-front on a schedule, and sharing the load, everybody wins.


One "Red Bull" connection of note: Corbett dedicates her book to the memory of U.S. Army First Lt. Nathan A. Nieber, 26, was killed in a 2002 boating accident while on stateside active-duty with the 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry Regiment (2-135 Inf. Reg.), 34th Infantry Division, Minnesota National Guard.

Disclosure: The Red Bull Rising blog received a review copy of this book.


  1. Thank you for the Review! I have put that on my "to be bought" list (not that I am or ever will be a USA National Guard spouse but I think it would be good to have a better knowledge of the in's & out's when supporting deployed National Guard troops via Soldiers' Angels)

    Cheers! Pax

  2. Thank you so very much for takIng the time to write such a thorough review on my book. Mega Hooahs! Mary

  3. Thank you for the great review of our book, National Guard 101. If your readers would like more information about the book, including an excerpt, or its author, please check at http://tinyurl.com/28crsc2.
    Savas Beatie LLC
    Publisher of Historical Titles of Distinction


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