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A Brief History: The United States National Guard

The United States National Guard’s birthday is this week, December 13th. While it is not a federal holiday, it is important to take note as the National Guard is the oldest military organization in America.


Men in army uniforms
Photo Source: Army National Guard

The National Guard was established in 1636 in Massachusetts. At the time, all men ages 16-60 were required to join one of the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s three regiments to defend the colony from attacks. They began with drills once a week and took watch at night duty to protect the colony. Similar regiments were created for defense in other colonies over the years. Through the 1700 and 1800s, these regiments lead the colonies during the American Revolution and fought during the Civil War.


An old painting of men with muskets
The First Muster By Don Troiani

In 1903, the Dick Act was signed into law. This was the first federal legislation that codified the transformation of state and local militia into the modern National Guard. It was named after Charles Dick, an Ohio National Guard officer, Senator, and Congressman. The law sought to improve militia training, readiness, and standards financed by federal funds, instead of state funds. Further laws in 1908 and 1916 contributed to the versatility the National Guard has as a state and federal military force.


The National Guard has continued to play an important part in the defense of the nation. During World War I, Harry S Truman was a Captain in the Missouri National Guard when he participated in the U.S. First Army landing in France and New York’s 15th Regiment was nicknamed the “Hell Fighters” for fighting valiantly in Europe. During World War II, President Franklin Rosevelt called-up the National Guard to train for one year, doubling the size of the U.S. active-duty force at the time.


An old painting of families waving goodbye to soldiers leaving on an Army transport.
Goodbye Dear, I'll Be Back in a Year By Mort Kunstler

The National Guard has fought in every U.S. war since 1936 and has provided security and recovery support for a variety of events. In 1993, the State Partnership Program began, pairing like minded National Guard States with other nations, like Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. That program has grown to include partnerships with 84 countries across 5 continents. Additionally, after September 11, 2001, Guard members will called upon to provide security at airports and deploy to Iraq, Afghanistan, and more. In 2005, 51,000 Guardsmen and women were deployed to Louisiana and Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina to assist with saving lives and recovery efforts.


On Sept. 1, 2005, Maryland Air National Guard and Army National Guard are transported by MDANG C-130J to Jackson, Mississippi, with supplies for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.
U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Master Sgt. Jim Foard

The National Guard is now our country’s second largest militia force and continues to call its members to serve during times of war and emergencies. On their birthday and every day, we thank all Guardsmen and women for their service.




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