Indiana Army National Guard SSG Randy Jackson (L) and SSG Michael Cole (R) are the new recruiters for Kosciusko County. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
Indiana Army National Guard SSG Randy Jackson (L) and SSG Michael Cole (R) are the new recruiters for Kosciusko County. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
Everyone who enlists in the Indiana Army National Guard has their reasons, and local recruiters SSG Michael Cole and SSG Randy Jackson are no different.

Cole, 33, said he had a lot of family members in different branches of the military, but he never really decided to join the military until after college and had a lot of loans.

“When I was applying for different police agencies after college, I was getting overpassed for just not having the experience. One of the guys that was doing my background asked if I ever thought about joining the National Guard. I had $44,000 in student loans and they were like, ‘Do you know (the National Guard) pay up to $50,000 in student loans?’ I was like, ‘That’s enough said for me. Where do I sign up?’” Cole said.

After getting a business card from the guy, Cole went and talked to a recruiter and signed up to pay off his student loans.

He’s now served 10 years in the Guard and is on his second contract.

“I stay in mainly for the health insurance. The health insurance is amazing. I love what I do. I get to do this every day and nothing can beat it,” Cole said. He left the sheriff’s department to become a recruiter full-time, which he’s done for three years now. Prior to being a recruiter, he served as a medic.

Jackson, 29, joined the National Guard when he was a 17-year-old high school junior.

“My grandpa was in the Army. My dad was in the Navy, then he went to the Army National Guard, then he went to the Air National Guard and then he went to the Army National Guard. Then my brother, he was in the Army National Guard then went into the Air National Guard. I mainly joined to serve. I chose whichever branch was going to take me first, so the National Guard was like, ‘You can join up at 17 and a junior.’ I was like, ‘Sign me up,’” Jackson said.

College tuition assistance is a big draw for people to join the National Guard, Cole said. “We have 100% state tuition assistance to many schools like IUPUI, Indiana University, Purdue University, Ball State. That’s a huge draw for a lot of people. Even if you don’t plan on using your college benefits after six years, your first contract, you can choose to transfer your college credits to either your spouse or your children,” he said.

The health care is “unbeatable,” Cole said. Just $208 a month, on average, can cover health insurance for an entire family. Cole said his son is handicapped and his wheelchair alone was $26,000, but the insurance covered the whole cost for it.

Jackson said his biggest benefit, too, for staying in the Guard was the health insurance. Where he used to work, his family insurance plan was $600 a month, but now he pays the $208.

“We had one kid on it, and we didn’t pay anything out of pocket. He had swollen kidneys, and we had a few visits down at Riley (Hospital for Children), and it didn’t cost us anything to have those visits,” Jackson said, noting that he has another child on the way.

Another huge benefit of serving in the Guard, Jackson said, is the timeframe in which a person serves.

“So it’s not like we impede on too much of your family activities or anything. You stay local, and you train one weekend a month, two weeks out of the summer. Pretty much frees up your time for family and activities that you can do with them,” he said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic this year, Cole said he thinks recruiting for the Guard has been easier.

“You know, the National Guard isn’t going anywhere. COVID, we’ve actually risen what we’ve been doing. We’ve had COVID responses with the wildfires going on, the hurricanes, working at food banks, working at the state prisons and stuff like that, we’ve been called in. We’ve been called in for riot control this year. 2020 for the National Guard has been explosive for what we’ve been able to do for the community,” Cole said.

“We have the motto of ‘Live here. Work here. Serve here.’ So we were actually helping out our own community, which is pretty rewarding. So I think COVID has been pretty good for us.”

Unfortunately, people have been losing jobs because of the pandemic, and the National Guard could be a potential opportunity to help a person provide for their family during this rocky time, he said.

To join the National Guard, Jackson said a person needs to be 17, a high school junior, at bare minimum. They need to score a minimum of 31 on the ASVAB, a timed multi-aptitude test. A person can not have any major health issues or law violations.

“And you have to be on the way to graduation or having your high school diploma or GED, so you have to have one or the other,” Cole said.

He said there’s different types of contracts to join the Guard. The basic one is a six-year contract, which will get a person all the benefits. There are other options.

“So everyone has to serve a mandatory eight-year service obligation. The (Inactive Reserve) is pretty much what is tacked on to make that eight years. So if you go active, you serve a 4-4, four years you’re active and four years you’re in the (Inactive Reserve). National Guard, we do a 6-2 mainly, but we can also do the 4 and 4 and 3 and 5, just different types of service contracts,” Cole said.

The Indiana National Guard armory is at 315 W. CR 350N, Warsaw. If someone wants more information about joining the Guard, they can contact Cole by cell at 574-361-6403 or email at Michael.E.Cole65.Mil@mail.mil; or contact Jackson by cell at 574-526-0537 or email at Randy.O.Jackson.mil@mail.mil.