Even though its full-time soldiers are required to take furloughs this year, the South Dakota Army National Guard is actively recruiting the weekend warriors who make up the majority of its fighting force.
“Right now, we need new recruits to join,” Lt. Col. Kory Knight, commander for the SDARNG’s Recruiting and Retention Command, said. “With all the national level talk of budget cuts, furloughs and possible troop reductions across the different services, I think it has created a false impression among prospective recruits and the general public that the Guard doesn’t need new members."
National Guard officials say they have about 60 positions to fill in the next month. The 842nd Engineering Company in the Northern Hills, meanwhile, has many as 20 positions open for the part-time soldiers who typically train on the weekends, according to Staff Sgt. Vanessa Powles, the unit's recruiting officer.
"I've got 12 hard slots, but I'd say we could take 20 people," she said. "The majority of those are heavy equipment operators."
The Defense Department has not made a decision to reduce the overall size of the Army and Air National Guard, which has approximately 463,700 members nationwide, including about 4,300 in South Dakota, according to National Guard officials.
They said that while 540 members of the Guard’s full-time force have begun to take furloughs imposed by the automatic budget cuts known as the sequester, Guard members who drill one weekend a month and two weeks a year are not affected.
Senior Master Sgt. Brian Voges, recruiting and retention superintendent for the Air Guard, said those leaving the service are creating many of the openings.
“We have 10 more projected losses for the remainder of the year, so we need approximately 22 more enlistments to reach 100 percent manning,” he said. “As far as next year — we typically lose about eight members per month or 96 a year — our goal would be to at least meet that number or exceed it so we stay at or above 100 percent.”
Staff Sgt. Katie Lindwurm, a recruiter for the South Dakota Army National Guard, said the Guard is looking to fill a variety of positions from public affairs to technicians. She said potential recruits might be misinformed about what benefits the military actually provides even in the era of sequestration and partisan warfare in Congress.
"Mostly with sequestration it has caused a lot of issues and with the federal tuition going away and coming back, I think people don’t really understand the wide array of benefits the National Guard offers," Lindwurm said.
Knight said the time is ideal to join the Guard with a struggling job market and rising education costs.
“We provide many educational benefits for college and vocational schools, a steady part-time check and an opportunity to learn a specialized skill,” Knight said. “Soldiers can specialize in fields such as engineering, communications and computer systems and medical, which can easily transfer into a civilian career.”