National Guard History & Facts

Much of the information here was taken directly from:
Listosaur NG Surprising Facts

One of the oldest units in the U.S. military-the "first muster"

One of the oldest units in the U.S. military-the “first muster”

The National Guard was founded in Massachusetts on December 13th, 1636. It is the oldest component of the Armed Forces of the U.S. In 1621 and in 1629, the first militia companies were organized for local defense. All men between the ages of 16-60 were required to enroll in the militia. With the number of companies expanding, a larger military organization was needed to control and command. The General Court ordered the organization of the North, South and East Regiments in 1636, and the  formerly independent companies were assigned to one of the geographically based regiments. These three regiments still serve today as the 181st Infantry Regiment and the 182nd Cavalry Regiment (both descended from the North Regiment), the 101st Field Artillery Regiment (South Regiment), and the 101st Engineer Battalion (East Regiment). These are the oldest units in the U.S. Army.

The National Guard’s oldest regiments met for their first drill in Salem, Massachusetts. In 1637, colonists pushed west and brought the militia with them. The militia, called the National Guard since 1916, has served community, state, and nation for nearly 400 years, and citizen-soldiers have fought in every major American conflict from 1637 to present day operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Much has changed since the “first muster,” but more than 370 years later, the men and women of the National Guard are still defending their neighbors – and their nation.

The Army National Guard is an elite group of warriors who dedicate a portion of their time to serving their nation. Each state has its own Guard, as required by the Constitution; in fact, it is the only branch of the military whose existence is actually required by the Constitution. Polls have shown the United States military is by far the most respected American institution. Like all institutions, its core is not buildings, mission statements or budgets, but people.

In the middle of the Civil War, Massachusetts Gov. John Andrews received permission from the federal government to form a volunteer infantry made up entirely of African Americans. This decision was controversial, as many doubted whether such a unit would be skilled and disciplined enough to serve effectively in combat. The 54th Massachusetts Volunteers got the chance to prove themselves in an attack on a heavily defended Confederate position on Morris Island at the mouth of the Charleston River. The unit fought bravely but sustained heavy casualties and failed to take the objective. Sgt. Carney, the first African American soldier to earn the Medal of Honor, received the military’s highest decoration as a result of his actions at Morris Island. The battle was famously depicted in the award-winning 1989 film Glory, starring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman.

National Guard and Reserve units have served in all of America’s wars going back to the French and Indian War in the 1750s. However, since the Global War on Terror began after 9/11 the active duty military has had to rely on the Guard and Reserve components much more heavily than in the past. With the end of the Cold War, force levels shrunk significantly during the 1990s. For example, the Army fell from a strength of 780,000 to 480,000 during this period. Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan (2001) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003) necessitated a larger force. However, the relatively small increases could not offset the need to deploy more part-time troops. 300,000 National Guard and Reservists accounted for about 55 and 43 percent of the troops deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey explained the situation succinctly when he said, “the reality of it all is that we cannot go to war without the Guard and Reserve.”

Many of us remember the images of fighter jets patrolling over American cities in the days and weeks after 9/11. Most people don’t realize that these Combat Air Patrols, which continue today, have been mostly a National Guard and Reserve mission. In response to 9/11, President Bush implemented Operation Noble Eagle on Sept. 15, 2001. Air Guard units have deployed a variety of aircraft and support units to defend the 2,500 square miles of air space around Washington, D.C. Many of the 35,000 National Guardsmen deployed as part of Operation Noble Eagle hail from South Carolina and Ohio. Units from these states have participated in rotating assignments to D.C. For example, the 263rd Air Defense Artillery Brigade has deployed with the hand-held Stinger Missile system to help keep the skies safe.

The National Guard takes an oath to perform state or federal missions and can be deployed for either. A governor can call up troops to assist in national disasters or the president can order troops to foreign nations on federal missions.

In times of peace, the National Guard trains one weekend a month and two weeks during the year.

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