Clearing The Air

Clearing The Air

Anthony, are you going back into the military soon?
Not exactly.
I’ve actually been in the military (Army National Guard) for the whole time I’ve been at UUCC. Fittingly, this very week marks 10 years TIS (time-in-service) for me in the Army.
5 years in Army Bands, and 5 years in the Chaplain Corps.
I started working with Paige (as my teaching pastor) when I began seminary in August of 2013.
6 years TIS at UUCC, for anyone doing the math (and keeping up with the acronyms).

Are the Army and the National Guard the same thing?
Not entirely.
The U.S. National Guard is a reserve (“part-time”) military force that evolved from local militias that were formed in the early 1600’s in the colonies. Born on December 13, 1636 (in Massachusetts), to be exact – which actually makes it almost 140 years older than the active-duty/ “full-time” Army.
For what it’s worth, the Civil War was essentially ‘National Guard’ vs. ‘National Guard’, with a few West Point full-timers sprinkled in for good measure (i.e., 1st Rhode Island Artillery, 3rd Maryland Cavalry, 54th Massachusetts Infantry).

Currently, the National Guard has two components – Air National Guard (Air Force) and Army National Guard (Army). Roughly 450,000 souls with dual ‘military citizenship’.

Oh. And neither of these two have anything to do with the U.S. Coast Guard – which has Active-Duty, Reserves, and Auxiliary (but no National Guard element).
Clear as mud?

Are the National Guard and the Reserves the same thing?
Not really.
The National Guard serves both the state and the country. Its first duty is to the state (technically, the governor) – forest fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, riots, etc. But its women and men are regularly called up for federal duty in conflicts, wars, peacekeeping, and training exercises around the globe.
The Reserves are ‘federal only’ – no state duties.

Yeah, but the National Guard and the Reserves aren’t the ‘real’ military, right?
Both the National Guard and the Reserves are technically ‘part-time’; reservists drill roughly one weekend a month, and two weeks in the summer.
But don’t let the smooth taste fool you.
Commanders and most senior leaders work countless hours for their units in between drills (most of which is unpaid) – all while juggling full-time civilian jobs and families.
I hold this truth to be self-evident – the perception that the Reserves and National Guard are not the ‘real’ military is not the ‘real’ reality.

All military members (part-time and full-time) serve together in combat – as a total force. There is nothing on my uniform or ID card that says ‘National Guard’; it just says ‘Army’.
And our adversaries in combat don’t stop to check whether or not you are ‘Active-Duty’ before they fire.
The irony is that reservists frequently have access to cutting-edge training in their civilian jobs that is light years beyond their Active-Duty counterparts.
‘Full-timers’ sometimes end up owing their lives to the ‘part-timers’.
So there’s that.

So, you’ll be ‘Active Duty’?
9ish to 5ish (though Active-duty is technically 24 hours a day). Every day of the week, and twice on Sunday. Full-time U.S. Air Force Chaplain.
After nearly 20 years of wearing many part-time hats at once (student, professional musician, soldier, intern, hospital chaplain, parish minister, etc), I will gratefully aim to spend the next 20 years wearing just one full-time hat.
I’m not gonna lie – it’ll feel pretty weird not to have a long/drawn-out/deep-breath answer to the ‘What do you do for a living?’ question.
Weird, in a good way.

At any given point in my Active-Duty career, I’ll be stationed at a place (usually an Air Force base). My family and I can expect to be moved to a new place just about every 3 or 4 years.
Our working plan is 20 years of Active-Duty and retirement on the island of Kauai in Hawaii – provided it’s still above water then (and its volcanoes haven’t come out of retirement).

Wait – did you say Air Force? I thought you were Army?
I grew up in an Active-Duty Air Force family (my stepdad served 20 years “full-time” as a radar technician); I was raised in and around Air Force culture, which has always felt very much like home for me. It’s in my blood.
I am both eternally grateful for my 10 years served in Army green – and crystal clear that my heart of hearts bleeds Air Force blue.
For me, this is a homecoming.

Ironically, the Air Force is notorious for having the best homes (housing) in all of the military. Borderline ‘fancy’ – which the other branches never let us forget.
Perhaps the grass actually is greener on the ‘blue’ side?

Do you know where you’ll be stationed for this first assignment?
Fittingly, San Antonio, TX – (St. Anthony).

For this assignment, I’ll actually be an Air Force chaplain working at an Army base.
I mean – how perfect is that?

Wait – you won’t be deployed, will you?
At some point, yes.
Overseas and in harm’s way. It’s what every military member trains for – even  (and especially) chaplains.
There is no context in which a chaplain’s presence is more impactful or medicinal than in the fire.
It can be the difference between life and death.
And it would be nearly impossible for a chaplain to ever fully relate to their troops and families in peacetime without having at least one shared experience of war.
I will absolutely grieve the time spent away from Sarah and the kids, when that day comes – though absence will make our hearts grow fonder (and my homecoming sweeter). I will pray that my children grow to understand the essential ‘why’ of my calling – and that they similarly find and pursue their own hearts’ inner urges in life.
C’est la vie (militarily).

For what it’s worth, only two U.S. military chaplains have been killed-in-action since 1970. Considering that chaplains are non-combatants (we don’t carry weapons), that number is mystifying.
It’s enough to give you religion.

Wait – what if I have more questions?
Sunday 10/20. 9am and 11am. UUCC, Sanctuary C. (Question Box).

‘Too easy’, as we Army-types say.

Blue In Green,


  1. Inge Hyder

    Thank you, Anthony, for this great explanation — with humor! I will miss you. Sending loads of love and good wishes to you and family. Love and Hugs, Inge

  2. Gail Thompson

    I have had three experiences with Air Force: Edwards and Kadena Air Bases, and you. All have been amazing and good. Never to be forgotten. Thank you for sharing your experience and dreams, for opening doors to military professional and family life, and for helping us open our doors to members of the military. Never to be forgotten.

  3. Mark Gorkin

    Anthony, glad our paths crossed, however brief. It’s nice to with minds that just seem to naturally jazz riff. Best wishes and more good wishes. Mark

  4. Ruth Zika

    Anthony, my sister Carol has been forwarding your writings for some tme. I have gratefully read them. I wish you and yours a successful future. You are an impressive man. Sincerely, Ruth Zika, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Charleston, WV

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *