When an extreme fringe of the Internet went into a paranoid frenzy about the U.S. military's Jade Helm 15 exercise, which begins next month in the Southwest, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) did what any reasonable governor would do: He requested the commander of his forces to monitor the United States Special Operations Command. The rest of the sane world reacted by criticizing Abbott, or being confused as to what kind of troops the governor actually has at his command.
The Texas Army National Guard and the Texas State Guard are two of the three branches of service that make up the Texas Military Forces, all of which answer to Abbott, but that’s about where their similarities end. The National Defense Act Amendments of 1933 separated the National Guard from the 23 state militias, known as State Defense Forces, that are currently active. The NDAA of 1933 also made it possible for National Guard units to be called upon for federal service in a time of need, making them accountable to the Department of Defense, or as conspiracy nuts specify, President Barack Obama.
The Texas State Guard, rooted in Stephen F. Austin’s militia, got its official name in 1941, when the Texas legislature authorized the governor to call a militia “at any time that the National Guard is in active Federal service.” It banded and disbanded as needed, but was formally reorganized in its current form in 1993.
State Defense Forces like the Texas State Guard may be loosely related to the National Guard Bureau, but do not have to follow the same rigid guidelines as those who sign up for National Guard. According to the Public Affairs Office of the Texas Military Forces, the qualifications for joining the TSG include being a healthy resident of Texas for at least 180 days; being between the ages of 18 and 70; having a valid Texas driver's license; and being able to pass a criminal background check. If those standards appear rather light, it's because they are. Your average mall cop might go through more -- which seems about right for a force normally used solely for emergency support, like during the recent wave of floods in Texas.
The Texas Army National Guard, or TXARNG, on the other hand, faces the same strict level of recruitment, physical fitness, aptitude test scores and citizenship requirements as do all members of the regular Army. The upside is that members of the TXARNG still get a majority of the same benefits for just giving their state one weekend a month and two weeks a year. The risk is the possibility of deployment into a warzone, just like that of the regular and reserve Army.
Members of the State Guard are not paid unless they are activated by the governor for an emergency operation, but they do get some sweet side perks. A free Texas concealed handgun license, a super combo hunting and fishing license, specially marked license plate eligibility, a waiver of toll road fees and paid military leave for state employees are among the benefits of being part of Abbott's personal army. When they do get called up, State Guard members are paid a daily stipend of $121, regardless of rank. The pay they would receive for a monthlong activation would almost equal the pay for all but the most senior enlisted in the TXARNG, which would be pretty expensive given Abbott’s order to monitor the two-month-long exercise.
With Jade Helm 15 approaching, Abbott is still finalizing the details of the State Guard’s involvement, and its cost to Texans. The last state budget had set the cost of the State Guard at $495,000, a pretty hefty amount for what is essentially a Veterans of Foreign Wars Post ready to help in times of need. Whether the monitoring of actual soldiers conducting training is considered a state emergency on par with the recent level of flooding has yet to be determined. With some of the more than 2,000 State Guard members having already begun assisting with the wave of deadly floods, it's unclear how many troops Abbott will be able to rally for his showdown with the U.S. Army Special Operations Command.