National Guard Birthday: Celebrating Those Always Ready, Always There
The US National Guard is an essential and storied branch of the United States military apparatus. Many of us can name the branches of the military, but can’t always describe what each of their responsibilities are or what they actually do. The National Guard is the trickiest, because it’s name doesn’t describe itself as well as say, the Air Force. A casual observer can guess that it guards the nation, but what does that really mean? In this guide to the National Guard Birthday, you’re going to learn all about the branch and its history, including the details of what its service members are responsible for. Read on to find out everything you need to know about the National Guard.
National Guard History
The Early National Guard
The National Guard was formed over hundreds of years of developments in legal and military organization throughout the founding of America. In the very beginning, it was essentially a method of organizing militias and centralizing their command structure.
The very first militia in America was formed in Spanish Florida to bolster the defense of the colonies. On December 13th, 1636 — which will become a very important date for the National Guard — the Massachusetts Bay Colony took several different militia units from across the territory and organized them into three specific regiments.
These three regiments were meant to defend the city of Boston and surrounding towns against several threats. The colonies feared the local Native Americans tribes in the area, along with any encroachment from other European colonists, such as the French colonists who settled to the north in modern-day Canada, and the Dutch, who moved into the rich natural harbor of what would one day become New York City.
To make sure the Massachusetts Bay Colony had the best chance to survive the race for colonization and expansion, the early National Guard was formed by creating these three regiments, labeled the North, South, and East Regiments.
The National Guard During the American Revolution
After the final straw divided the colonies from their loyalties to the Crown and fighting broke out at Lexington and Concord, the Continental Army was formed in 1775 to fight against the British. This standing army brought in soldiers from all 13 colonies and relied upon a strong centralized command structure and hosted famous military leaders that are still household names in America today. Their story is one of valor, courage, and victory. But that story is for another day.
At this point, the National Guard was not an official governmental organization. Instead, we find the continued history of their operation in the several militias which cropped up throughout the colonies. Made of men and boys with a fervent zeal to be free, the militiamen paraded the countryside in an effort to control ground that the British would otherwise be free to raze at will.
These militias were not always successful. They were made of regular citizens, and more often than not, men past fighting age or men the Continental Army wouldn’t take for one reason or another. While they were not the official strategic force of the Continental Congress, they were nonetheless helpful in certain strategic purposes.
For instance, these roaming bands of defenders forced the British to travel and hold up in larger numbers than they ordinarily would have, lest they risk running into a militia with a larger number of men and be beaten back. The Red Coats garrisoned in larger numbers, occupying fewer locations than they might have if the militias weren’t patrolling the open wild and forcing the British to always rethink their movements.
While certainly the actions of General George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette proved the decisive blow to the British Army and won the war for the future of the Colonies, the many militias that patrolled the Revolutionary landscape in defense of the homeland were a major boon to the war effort.
The National Guard in Early America
In 1787, the Constitutional Convention established the militias under the control of the states, to become a standing army when necessary, or defense against Federalist overreach. In 1792, the Militia Acts allowed the militias to be commanded by the President of the United States and gave the militias specific standards for membership and training. This didn’t satisfy everyone, and through pressure and advocacy, George Washington and other military leaders were able to establish a national military academy at West Point in 1802. The performance of the milia was shaky at best, being called to action by various presidents for rebellions and the War of 1812.
Despite training standards being sought, the militias couldn’t be counted on as much as the standing army, which was perpetually low on recruits. Adding to the problems the makeshift organization faced, the struggle for control between states and the centralized government still raged on, with different states and individual militias holding different opinions.
The term National Guard originated to honor the Marquis de Lafayette upon his visit to New York in 1824 when the 2nd Battalion of the 11th New York Artillery began to call itself just that. Lafayette had commanded the French National Guard during the French Revolution. The term stuck, and the National Guard would begin to cement itself into a more concrete place in the American military.
The National Guard in the Civil War
When the states began to battle amongst themselves, the militia system of the National Guard was tested. Lincoln was able to muster militia forces on a national level for the North, but the militias were still also under the control of the states and did what they were told by their local Adjutant General.
It was a divided time in American history, and the National Guard was no different. Militiamen were still seen as unreliable at this point, and they most often participated in the war effort by spearheading sideline responsibilities like guarding prisoners.
But they did see significant action in larger campaigns, too, such as Gettysburgh. After the fighting ended, the National Guard was used during Reconstruction to solidify peace and stability in America.
Militia units were deployed to protect elections and to control labor riots in a rapidly changing economy. The 1916 National Defense Act named the National Guard into America’s official military reserve. Further National Defense Acts in 1920 and 1933 each expanded the role of the National Guard and crafted new roles for its members based on their previous involvement in battle and domestic stability.
What Does the National Guard Do Today?
In modern times, the National Guard still provides for the defense of the nation, but what that looks like is slightly different than it did during the American Revolution and earlier.
The National Guard is beholden to both the U.S. Government and the state governors. These two authorities share the privilege of deploying National Guard forces for various purposes. The National Guard responds to state and national emergencies, such as weather disasters encompassing several states. They’re deployed in response to major flooding, earthquakes, and more.
At the end of the relief effort following hurricane Katrina, the National Guard saved 88,000 people via airlift and flew over 10,200 missions. (Click to Tweet this)
Following 9/11, the National Guard was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in record numbers, making up 28% of America’s frontline forces at the height of its use. (Click to Tweet this)
They’re also sometimes used as security forces for sensitive national assets like Guantanamo Bay, or to assist with the local security forces in war-torn regions overseas.
During the Ebola outbreak, the National Guard was called upon to aid authorities to quarantine and assist stricken populations in Africa. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the National Guard is assisting in many areas of the United States. Units are deployed to assist with testing and logistics. The flexibility of the National Guard makes it a powerful asset to the United States military.
When Is the National Guard Birthday?
The National Guard birthday is December 13, 1636. This is the day that the Massachusetts Bay Colony took several militias and organized them into three regiments: North, South, and East. The modern version of these regiments still exists today.
The National Guard will be 384 years old this year. (Click to Tweet this)
National Guard Facts
We know that you all love facts and history, so this section is dedicated to our readers and their ongoing thirst for historical trivia.
- The National Guard was founded over the course of hundreds of years of changes, but its birthday is celebrated on December 13th, 1636. (Click to Tweet this)
- The North, South, and East regiments created by the Massachusetts Bay Colony are still in existence today. North: 1st Squadron, 182nd Cavalry Regiment and 1st Battalion, 181st Infantry Regiment. South: 1st Battalion, 101st Field Artillery Regiment. East: 101st Engineer Battalion. (Click to Tweet this)
- The 1st Squadron, 182nd Cavalry Regiment and 1st Battalion, 181st Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion, 101st Field Artillery Regiment, and the 101st Engineer Battalion are designated as the oldest in the U.S. military. (Click to Tweet this)
- The Air Force wasn’t created until 1947, so before then the Air National Guard was under the authority of the Army National Guard. (Click to Tweet this)
- The oldest Air National Guard unit is the 1st Aero Company, New York National Guard, and today is named the 102nd Rescue Squadron of the New York Air National Guard. (Click to Tweet this)
- The 369th Infantry, also known as the Harlem Hellfighters, was formed in 1916 as a Black National Guard regiment and sent to France in 1917. The regiment was highly decorated during and after World War I. (Click to Tweet this)
The National Guard is the oldest branch of the U.S. military, and it carries a lot of history along with it. From its earliest roots as loose groups of militiamen looking to defend their burgeoning colonies against external threats, to the amazing men and women who respond to disasters and defend America today, the National Guard has answered the call again and again. Because they’re a flexible force used for both combat and support operations, and can be deployed by their individual states or by the president, the National Guard is a malleable force that fills multiple responsibilities and maintains U.S. and global stability. For 384 years the National Guard has been serving this role.