The National Guard is the oldest component of the US military. Before there was the National Guard, there were state or colonial militias. The guard’s lineage dates back to 1636 when the Massachusetts Bay Colony organized three militia regiments to defend against the growing threat of the Pequot Indians. Patterned after the English Militia systems, all males between 16 and 60 were obligated to own arms and take part in the defense of the community.
The National Guard has participated in every US war, beginning with the French and Indian War (before “National Guard” was coined). In the War for Independence, more than 164,000 militiamen from the 13 colonies served under the command of the former Virginia militia colonel, George Washington. While the Continental Army, with militia support, fought the main battles of the Revolutionary War, other militia regiments kept British forces in check by harassing, foraging and raiding parties and limiting the royal troops to the cities.
The term “National Guard” originates from the Marquis de Lafayette, who commanded a Virginia brigade during the Revolutionary War. Lafayette coined the phrase "Garde Nationale" for his French Revolutionary Army during the French Revolution in the 1790s. Lafayette popularized the term in the United States during a return visit in 1824, by applying it to all organized militia units in America. The term immediately began to appear in newspapers and magazines as popular slang for the militia.
The 2nd Battalion, 11th Regiment of Artillery, New York Militia voted to rename itself the "Battalion of National Guards" in 1824 in tribute to Lafayette's command of the Paris militia. New York, by state statute, adopted the term National Guard for its militia during the Civil War. Many states followed New York's lead after the Civil War by renaming their militias “National Guard.” The term was not recognized as the militia's formal title by federal
legislation until the 1916 National Defense Act.
With the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898, close to 165,000 National Guardsmen volunteered for active duty. Although only a few National Guard regiments were sent to Cuba, many Guardsmen were shipped to the Philippines to fight. One of the most famous regiments of the war was the Rough Riders, made up of Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas Guardsmen who, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, assaulted San Juan Hill (which in actuality was Kettle Hill). Despite heavy enemy fire, the Rough Riders seized the heights overlooking the city of Santiago, which led to the Spanish surrender two weeks later.
The modern image of today's National Guard began to emerge in 1903, when the landmark Militia Act (also called the Dick Act) established procedures for a more direct and active role by the federal government in organizing, training and equipping the National Guard in line with Army standards. The legislation divided all male citizens between the ages of 18 and 45 into the organized militia (National Guard) and the reserve militia. In addition, it mandated that, within five years, the organization, pay, discipline and equipment of the National Guard equal that of the Army.
Increased federal funding compensated Guardsmen for summer training camps and joint maneuvers with regular Army. States were required to hold at least 24 drills (instructional periods) each year, and some National Guard officers attended Army schools. The War Department assigned Army officers to each state as advisors, instructors and inspectors and enabled states to exchange outdated weapons and equipment for current issue. The War Department also created the Division of Militia Affairs, the forerunner of the National Guard Bureau, to oversee National Guard organization and training.
Membership in the National Guard remained voluntary, and governors retained control over National Guard mobilization. The Dick Act limited federal service by Guardsmen to nine months. However, a 1908 amendment lifted the nine-month restriction as well as permitted Guardsmen to serve outside the continental United States.
In June 1916, the National Defense Act essentially created the modem National Guard. The act provided increased federal support and regulation of the Guard. When officers and units reached Army standards in regard to strength, equipment and skill, they were federally recognized and eligible for federal support. These changes proved pivotal when America involved itself in World War I, with more than 379,000 Guardsmen ordered to active duty. During the war the National Guard supplied 17 combat divisions, or about 40% of the entire American Expeditionary Forces.
Following a rapid and haphazard demobilization after the end of the war, many states had to rebuild their Guard units, while the National Guard as a whole was reorganized into four cavalry divisions and 18 infantry divisions. The National Defense Act of 1920 established that the Army of the United States would consist of the regular Army, an Organized Reserve Corps and the National Guard when called into federal service.
An amendment to the National Defense Act passed in 1933 created a new Army component, the National Guard of the United States. This component, while identical in personnel and organization to the National Guard of the states, was a part of the Army at all times and could be ordered into active federal service by the president whenever Congress declared a national emergency. Thus it became possible for the National Guard to be given an Army mission without having to wait for a “call” to be issued by state governors.
In August 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the National Guard of the United States into active service. Between September 16, 1940, and October 6,1941, the National Guard brought into federal service more than 300,000 men, in 18 combat divisions, as well as numerous non-divisional units, including 4,800 men from the 29 National Guard observation squadrons. The number of Guardsmen federalized doubled the strength of the active Army, and the National Guard observation squadrons, due to their high state of training, helped to expand the U.S. Army Air Force.
During World War II, National Guard units participated in 34 separate campaigns and numerous assault landings in Europe and the Pacific. Guard units served well, with 148 presidential citations awarded for outstanding performance of duty or for conspicuous valor or heroism. Individual Guardsmen received 20 Medals of Honor, 50 Distinguished Service Crosses, 48 Distinguished Flying Crosses and over 500 Silver Star Medals.
Once the war was over, the Secretary of War approved plans calling for the reorganization of the National Guard and giving it a dual status and mission. The National Guard of the United States, as a reserve component of the Army, was to be an "M-day" (Mobilization Day) force, thoroughly trained, equipped and ready for immediate service to the nation in case of enemy aggression or a national emergency. The National Guard of the states was to provide organizations and personnel for the Reserve (federal) Component and to preserve peace, order and public safety in their states during local emergencies. The Secretary of War's policies provided that the federal government supervise military instruction, furnish field training facilities, pay, uniforms, equipment and ammunition and contribute a fair portion of the expenses for construction of National Guard armories.
The other major post-war change for the Guard was the establishment of the Air National Guard (ANG). On September 18, 1947, the same day that U.S. Air Force was officially established, the Air National Guard too was born. The ANG was a product of the politics of postwar planning and inter-service rivalry during World War II. The men who planned and maneuvered for an independent postwar Air Force during World War II didn't place much faith in the reserves, especially the state-dominated National Guard. They were convinced that reserves could not operate complex modern weapons without extensive post-mobilization training.
But decisions by the White House forced Air Force leaders into accepting a place for the ANG. President Harry Truman wanted not only to trim defense spending but also split defense dollars evenly among the Army, Navy and Air Force. This compelled the Air Force to plan for a far smaller active duty force than it had envisaged during World War II. The Air National Guard had to help fill the gap.
Another key post-war development for the Guard occurred in 1946 when New Jersey became the first state to officially integrate its National Guard, two years before the Army stopped segregating African-Americans in separate units. In spite of this move, the Guard remained an almost exclusively white organization throughout the 1950s. In 10 states with large black populations, Guard units still had no black soldiers or airmen in their ranks as late as 1961.
Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara tried to encourage voluntary integration in the early 1960s, with little success. The Guard’s leadership disputed McNamara’s legal authority to force integration while the Guard was under state control. It had also argued that integration would be political suicide for some governors and would hurt the military capabilities of their units. Despite these concerns, Guard units played key roles during the Civil Rights Era. In 1956 President Eisenhower federalized the entire Arkansas National Guard for a month to prevent a segregationist governor from using it to stop the court-ordered integration of Little Rock High School. The scene was replayed in 1962 during the desegregation of the University of Mississippi. In both cases, Guardsmen obeyed the President and helped enforce the law, even though real progress in effectively integrating the Guard did not come until the 1970s.
The National Guard again was heavily involved in the Korean War, with more than 183,000 National Guard personnel serving on active duty. Air Guardsmen flew 39,530 combat sorties and destroyed 39 enemy aircraft during the Korean War. But the ANG paid a high price in Korea as 101 of its members were either killed or declared missing in action during the conflict.
No massive call-ups of National Guard troops occurred during the Vietnam War. This was due to President Lyndon Johnson's attempt to portray the war as a limited conflict that could be fought with resources already available to the regular Army. Approximately 7,000 Guardsmen did wind up serving in Vietnam, mostly in response to the Tet offensive launched by North Vietnam in 1968.
Many National Guard units saw action of a different sort during the 1960s. Beginning with Newark, New Jersey, in 1964, racially motivated riots broke out in many large American cities. Units of the National Guard were called out to stop burning and looting in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Detroit and a host of other cities. Guardsmen also were used to maintain order during large demonstrations protesting the Vietnam War. The most controversial moment came on the campus of Kent State University in 1970 when, during a protest over America’s invasion of Cambodia. Ohio National Guardsmen shot to death four students.
The 1970’s were a watershed time for the National Guard. The administration of President Richard Nixon implemented a new military doctrine that further integrated the Guard with the Army for the purpose of gaining political support for overseas military campaigns. “Total Force Concept” required increased reliance on the combat readiness of the National Guard and the reserves. General Creighton Abrams, United States Army Chief of Staff, reorganized the "Total Army" so that the regular Army could not conduct an extended campaign without mobilizing the Guard and Reserves, thus gaining the involvement and, hopefully, the support of small-town America.
During the 1970s, as America entered the “all-volunteer era” and the Total Force Policy was implemented, the National Guard began receiving more modern equipment in larger quantities than it had in decades, including newer helicopters, fixed wing aircraft, upgraded tanks, artillery pieces and antitank missiles. The Guard also began taking in more women during the decade. The first female in the National Guard was a nurse, First Lieutenant Sylvia Marie St. Charles Law, who was commissioned in the Air National Guard in January 1957. During the 1950s and ‘60s, nurses were the only women in the Guard. A 1968 law authorized prior-service enlisted women to join the Guard, but the numbers recruited were small. In 1971 non-prior-service women were allowed to enlist. As all branches of the military began opening previously restricted jobs to women, the number of women in both the Army and Air National Guard rose dramatically.
With more modern equipment and communications capabilities, the Guard was used more for state missions in the 1980s than ever before in the Guard's history. Floods, forest fires, tornadoes, snow emergencies and energy shortages led to hundreds of call-ups during the decade. Civil disturbances, police and firemen's strikes and walkouts by state prison employees resulted in other call-ups for domestic emergencies to maintain safety and law and order.
The Eighties also saw the Guard become part of the Reagan administration’s war on drugs. In 1984, when the National Guard was asked to take active roles in the nation's effort to stop the flow of illegal drugs, 14 states participated in anti-drug missions. The 1989 National Defense Authorization Act authorized the Secretary of Defense to provide funding to governors who submitted plans to use their National Guard members to support drug enforcement agency requests. Since that time, the National Guard has played a major role in supporting federal, state and local anti-drug operations.
With the invasion of Panama in 1989, the Guard found itself at the beginning of a new era of involvement in overseas military operations. Missouri's 1138th Military Police Company and Minnesota's 125th Public Affairs Detachment participated in Operation Just Cause
in Panama to oust strongman Manuel Noriega. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, Air National Guard units helped fly elements of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division to Saudi Arabia in rapid deployment to protect the kingdom. During the Gulf War, the mobilization of the National Guard affected units in 51 of the 54 states and territories.
In the first real test of the Total Force Policy, Guard units were on active duty only two weeks after Operation Desert Shield
began. A majority of the first Guard units to be mobilized were transportation, quartermaster and military police units. Later, two field artillery brigades arrived in Saudi Arabia. When coalition forces launched their ground offensive in 1991 against Iraq, National Guard units, fully integrated into the coalition forces, supported attack. The Oklahoma Army National Guard was one of the many Guard units assigned to support the advance into Iraq.
During the remainder of the decade, Guard units participated in other, smaller military campaigns. Guard Special Forces and aviation soldiers took part in Operation Uphold Democracy
in Haiti in 1995. Also that year, the 4th Battalion, 505th Infantry, consisting of 70% Guard soldiers, deployed to the Middle East as part of the Multinational Force and Observers that monitors the border between Egypt and Israel. Beginning in 1996, Guard personnel began taking part in Operation Joint Endeavor, now Joint Guard, as part of the NATO peacekeeping force in Bosnia.
Air National Guard History