US National Guard and Army Reserve Full during Vietnam War?

While annoying myself researching the disgraceful histories of US presidents who carefully avoided military service during their Vietnam War era by various forms of undue political and other influence and base dishonesty (Clinton, Bush the Younger, and Trump with his laughable temporary bony heel spur, which I had and cured by simple exercises as a bony heel spur is bullshit) but who were belligerent in office in happily sending to war exactly the same sort of less privileged average Americans who did their national and military duty when these over-privileged bastards shirked theirs, I noticed this on Clinton:

As Clinton headed home for Arkansas from England, his options for avoiding the draft were limited. He did not qualify for conscientious objector status because he did not have a history of opposing military service or war in general, only the Vietnam War specifically. The local Army National Guard and Reserve units were full.

I understand the distinction between US National Guard and Army Reserve so far as federal and state government control is concerned, but I don’t understand how both National Guard and Reserve units could be full so as to exclude Clinton, unless they are organised purely on a local geographical basis so that Clinton couldn’t join.

Were those units full at the time because people joined them to avoid service in Vietnam?

If so, how does that make sense when both National Guard and Army Reserve Units were deployed in Vietnam?

Was the attraction of National Guard / Reserve (Young Bush was Air Force Reserve) for future presidents simply that there was a very much lower chance of deployment to Vietnam in those forces than as a draftee?

In short the answer to the last sentence is yes. Presidents LBJ and Nixon were both very hesitant to mobilize the Guard or Reserves to any large extent. Not sure how slots were apportioned and filled during the 60’s, but I imagine Clinton was limited to the geographical location around his home residence in Arkansas. When I was in the Reserve, they wanted us to live about 50 miles from our unit, though there are exceptions based on need and vocation…


Your comments are reinforced by the following article which I’ve found since my initial post, which also notes that another draft dodger found all National Guard and Reserve units full, apart from Guard airborne which he naturally joined in the expectation of avoiding Vietnam (not sure I’d prefer to jump out of serviceable aeroplanes to avoid being a grunt with my feet on the ground at all times) but ended up as one of the very small proportion of Guardsmen sent to Vietnam where he had a hot war.

The Vietnam War changed the National Guard.

During that conflict, joining the guard was seen as a way to avoid the draft; during America’s recent wars, the guard and reserve made up nearly half the forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

You can trace the transformation of the guard back to the few units from it that did go and fight in Vietnam. And ahead of the 40th anniversary of the end of that conflict, several former guard members — who are also Vietnam vets — met up at the Veterans Of Foreign Wars Post in Carmel, Ind., just north of Indianapolis.

Around a table there, they remembered their paths to Vietnam.

‘Find A Way Out’

In 1968 Bob McIntire was a college student in Indianapolis, having trouble paying tuition. When he dropped a few courses at Butler University, the draft board called.

"When we got done with the physical the guy there said, ‘you’ve got usually about 90 days to find a way out, if you’ve got a way out,’ " he says.

Back then, the National Guard was one way out: You could serve without going to war. So McIntire looked for guard and reserve units. Most were full, but a unit in Greenfield, Ind., would take him — if he agreed to train as a paratrooper.

“I lucked out by joining the National Guard and signing up to go airborne,” he says. “It’s the only way they were takin’ anyone.”

But unluckily for McIntire, he landed in one of the very few National Guard units sent to Vietnam: Company D, 151st Infantry. In all, several thousand guardsmen — out of a total of hundreds of thousands — eventually were deployed.

Sent To The Jungle

McIntire says he was so sure that he wouldn’t be deployed to Vietnam that he didn’t realize he’d gotten orders until he heard it on the radio during a lunch break.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he says.

Next thing they knew they were just northeast of Saigon, at a base in Bien Hoa. It was just before Christmas in 1968.

They were sent into the jungle in teams of six to set up ambushes until they were picked up by chopper pilots from the regular army.

Mike Slabaugh remembers a patrol in April 1969, when he traded positions with another member of the unit — a guy named Bob Smith.

“He wasn’t there for 20 seconds, he got shot in the head,” Slabaugh says. “And uh, we carried him to the chopper and gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but it was — he was gone.”

Four men from his unit, including Smith, died during the year they saw combat. Their guard unit was one of the most decorated of the war: Its soldiers earned 19 Silver Stars, among the military’s highest awards for valor.

Their experience is almost unique.

President Lyndon Johnson never wanted to call up the guard: Sending those units to war could turn the public against what the White House and Pentagon — in the early days — hoped would be a short conflict.

“It would publicize the war, it would make the war, economically, more difficult — two things that Johnson did not want to do,” says Andrew Wiest, professor of history at the University of Southern Mississippi. “This war was going to be quick — and quiet.”

But, Wiest says, after the draft ended in 1973, the Army had little choice.

Paving The Way For A Change

Gen. Creighton Abrams, who commanded U.S. forces in Vietnam from 1968 to 1972, wanted to ensure the guard was not sidelined in future conflicts.

“He felt that one of the great failings of the Vietnam War was that the National Guard was never called up, and the nation was never engaged,” Wiest says.

So the Pentagon began to knit the guard with the active-duty military; key specialties like combat engineering or air refueling are now built into guard units.

That unit from Indiana actually paved the way for what was to come.

“Been a lot of things written about the Indiana Rangers, because it did work — we were successful,” says Gary Bussell, one of the Vietnam vets at the VFW Hall. “But it was the first step into trying something like that.”

All of the Indiana veterans say they watched how guard troops and active duty soldiers worked together in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was a small victory for the men sitting around the table, borne of a war they wished they hadn’t had to fight.

It’s interesting to contrast the mobilisation of the Guard in recent conflicts and in both world wars, notably the 32nd Infantry Division which was one of the first US formations to engage the Japanese and which, poorly trained and poorly led, stalled at Buna until Gen Eichelberger famously turned it around in the field and brought it up to useful offensive effect in a very short time. The 32nd had previously distinguished itself during WWII [MAJOR EDIT: Should be WWI :oops:) as an aggressive and effective formation.

Vietnam seems to be the only major conflict in which the National Guard was a refuge for draft dodgers rather than a solid contributor to fighting overseas.

Come to think of it, it wasn’t much different down here as our equivalent Citizen Military Forces (CMF) had their fair share of draft dodgers, who pretty much buggered the whole force because they weren’t committed; didn’t turn up to most supposedly obligatory training; and weren’t prosecuted under military law for being a bunch of useless slackers. That was one of the main reasons I discharged myself as it was a waste of time trying to do exercises when half the unit was absent and the officers just let the slackers slink off with no consequences. But, like the 32nd Division, it was a CMF unit that in 1942 bore the brunt of the Japanese attack in Papua at the start of the same campaign that later involved the 32nd, and the poorly equipped and poorly trained CMF soldiers generally distinguished themselves by effective action.

I can’t think of any our major politicians who hid from our draft in the CMF (unlike in my basic training intake a prominent and supposedly heroic footballer and, separately, a large group from a certain ethnic and geographical background prominent in organised crime which today still rules crime in that geographical area - what a marvellous idea to train them at taxpayers’ expense in using weapons) , but I can think of a few of our politicians who served in Vietnam and later went into politics.

IIRC the Australian draft dodger had to join up for 6 years service in the CMF before the conscription ballot so, consistent with the gambling aspect of the ballot system, he had to commit himself to that 6 years without knowing whether his number would come up in the ballot (Mine didn’t, and I joined after I knew my number didn’t come up in my ballot.), whereas the article above indicates that the Americans had the opportunity to join the Guard or Reserve after they’d been selected. Either way, in both countries it wasn’t designed to ensure a force of committed servicemen.

Very interesting. I must confess that, especially in view of the last few decades’ unfortunate events in the Middle East, I had been a bit mystified by the presence of US National Guard members in the front lines (such as they were) in Iraq and Afghanistan, by contrast with the situation that I had assumed had obtained in Vietnam (Clinton, Bush, Quayle etc.). I am now rather better informed. BTW - I had to force my mind to recall former Veep Dan Quayle. I also vaguely remember a satirical song on his “war service” in the National Guard (to the air of “Banks of the Wabash”) - “I spent the war/In Indiana/'cos getting shot/Was not for me …”.

Interesting to reflect (at least I think so - typical) on the historical predecessors of the National Guard, on both sides of the Atlantic. In Britain, the predecessors of the National Guard were the Yeomanry (cavalry, composed of “gentlemen” who could afford horses) and the Militia (other classes, ranging from relatively well-to-do officers who could afford commissions, and the more common man. The regular army was generally maintained as a small force, with noble and gentleman-officers , who generally purchased their positions but who also were, effectively, professional soldiers. I think that in the early, post-War of Independence days in the US, a similar pattern was followed - and its inefficiency in times of emergence was one argument used in favour of Federalism in the early decades.

It requires little more than a reading of the novels of Jane Austen (“Pride and Prejudice” in particular) to notice the odd quality of Britain’s wars against Revolutionary and Napoleonic France - which was as close to the mid-modern period came to “total war”, and went on almost continuously for over 20 years. The Militia and Yeomanry - often locally-raised, under colonels who were well-connected local gentlemen - were not subject to service outside the British domain. Even from a reading of Austen, it is pretty clear that obtaining a Yeomanry or Militia commission was open to young “gentlemen” pretty well without number, provided that they could pay the cost of the relevant commission. Not sure about the lower ranks of the Militia in particular. However, it is clear enough that the regular army and Royal Navy supplemented volunteers (of whom their were many, for economic reasons alone) with impressment.

While, as in Jane Austen, the life of a Militia or Yeomanry officer may well have been a grand round of parties and seductions, some at least of these (effectively) service-avoiding gentlemen must have got a nasty surprise when the 1798 United Irishmen rising broke out in the Emerald Isle. The United Irishmen were a political society inspired by French Republicanism, the political ancestors of all Irish republicanism since. In 1798 the United Irishmen rose up in the north-east, south east and west of the country.

The ill-trained and cavalry-heavy local forces, and tiny, artillery-light Regulars based in Ireland proved completely unable to control the Rebellion, especially when it spread outside Ulster. In order to put the rebellion down, the British Government determined that English and Scottish Militia and Yeomanry units were subject to deployment in Ireland (technically a separate “kingdom” at the time). This expedient, backed up with the assignment of capable British Regular commanders, proved effective, if sometimes brutally so.

Oh well, times seem to have changed … Yours from the Bridge of Ross, JR.

The major difference in the post-Vietnam era is that the US (and Australian) forces are all volunteer, so there’s no incentive for people to hide in the part-time forces to avoid the risk of active service in a shooting war. In turn, this ensures that the part-time forces are also all volunteers and thus much better motivated than draft dodgers hiding in the part-time forces. The next step is that this enables the part-time forces to be better integrated with the permanent volunteer forces, which allows for effective full-time deployment on active service for some part-time forces, although some regular servicepeople naturally regard the reserves as inferior incompetents who should stay at home.

Another and huge difference with an all volunteer army is that, compared with the large numbers of conscripts committed to Vietnam, nobody in the wider society much cares if volunteers go to war, get wounded, or die, as it doesn’t have any direct impact on their lives. This is a major bonus for politicians and has probably enabled them, notably in the US and certainly in Australia, to get involved in wars which would have been impossible if they still relied upon conscripts to fight unpopular wars. All the politicians have to contend with is objections to the war on other grounds, which however well-reasoned and compelling have consistently failed to raise anything like the strong popular opposition to a war that occurred during the Vietnam era.

I don’t know about America, but in my experience during the Vietnam era the men who chose the reserve forces to avoid conscription were probably there not because they objected to conscription per se but because they disagreed with our involvement in Vietnam, which turned out to be the majority view of the whole nation towards the end of our involvement and much more so in succeeding years, and weren’t willing to put their lives on the line for that conflict. I think this view is supported by the absence of any serious resistance to the preceding form of compulsory military service in the 1950s (unlike widespread non-compliance for different reasons with our pre-WWI universal military service obligation), which didn’t involve active service in any conflict. I suspect that there were also many who were just part of the swinging sixties and didn’t like the idea of being forced into full time military service for a couple of years, but who had no grounds or willingness to try the usually futile attempt for exemption as conscientious ojectors.