The United States National Guard, formed on December 13 in 1636, has about 400 years of history. The National Guard is a branch of the armed forces and is an organized reserve. It is subordinate to the state in which it is located and the federation. Each state has its guard, as this is a requirement of the Constitution. The governor can activate the National Guard to deal with emergencies within the country and abroad to support the US Army and Air Force.
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The Army of the National Guard is believed to have formed when the Massachusetts Bay Colony organized three militia regiments to defend against a growing threat from the Pequot Indians in 1636. All men from 16 to 60 were obliged to carry weapons and participate in weekly exercises and night guards. After the formation of the United States, the Massachusetts Militia was organized from these regiments. However, the first gatherings of militias and law enforcement officers were known to history even before this incident. In 1565, Pedro Menéndez de Aviles led his regular troops north, assigning militias to guard the camp’s provisions (Doubler and Listman 34). These traditions laid the foundation for colonial defenses in the New World.
Even though the first cases of the prerequisites for the emergence of the National Guard took place in the 16th and 17th centuries, the first national law regulating the militia was not issued until 1792. This Militia Act contained only two directions, one of which provided for the organization of militias. The second gave authority to the President of the United States to command them in emergencies.
However, before the publication of this document, the traditions of popular militias against the British Empire, which unnecessarily interfered in colonial affairs, were strengthened. Despite the fact that after removing the threat from the Indians, the militia switched to other colonial powers – Spanish and French. Nevertheless, most often, the militia faced precisely with the British Empire, where its best and worst sides manifested themselves. Until the American Revolution and Civil War, where the militias were nicknamed Minutemen, the Guardsmen did not have significant federal support and control.
There was a moment in history when, at the time of international conflicts, most US armies consisted of militias. We talked about the Mexican War of 1846-1847, where the first relationship began between the regular army and the volunteer militias. Despite the divisions within the troops, critical battles were won by common efforts. Only in 1903 did the National Guard receive official status. The law, which came out this year, was named after Republican politician Charles Dick. For merits in the service, he received a major general and later became the US National Guard Association head. The enacted law provided the necessary support to the guards in building blocks, equipment, tuition fees, and annual summer camps.
World Wars I and II
During World War I, a new National Defense Act of 1916 was passed, giving the National Guard its current name. Moreover, this law introduced the standardization of training among other military forces, the need to pass tests, and an increase in funding for the guards (Doubler and Listman 88). Not long before this, the first aviation units and air guards appear, which will take part in many historical events of the last century.
Since 1903, the state has gradually separated the National Guard and the Reserve Militia, designating the first unit as an organized militia. The process ended in 1933, and then every soldier was obliged to undergo a double commission – at the state and federal level. In the same year, the National Guard switched to total funding from the state budget.
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Since then, the guardsmen have known not only double-checks but also double oaths. All the same law of 1916 obliged the militias to swear allegiance to the United States Constitution and their state of affairs. This oath emphasized the federal and state mission of each guard. Between the World Wars, the National Guard sought to build up air forces and create squadrons. However, the Great Depression of 1929 made adjustments to the plans. Since then, only immediately before the Second World War, the creation of new flying units has resumed.
In 1940, the first national peacetime appeal was adopted, which implied a year of mobilization. However, due to the events in Europe, the call was extended. A little later, in 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and the United States entered World War II. The federalization of the Guards doubled the size of the American armed forces, which made it possible to intervene in the military conflict. After World War II, the Guardsmen were sent to serve in the Korean War. The Vietnam War also marked the 60s. In addition to hostilities, these years were a period of social change.
In New Jersey in 1947, the northern states began a process of racial integration of their National Guardsmen. The landmark Civil Rights Act of 1965 forced southern states to follow suit, and 25 years later, African Americans made up nearly a quarter of the Army’s National Guard (Doubler and Listman 284). Since colonial times, African American men have served in the militia; women, regardless of race, did not. Since the Militia Act of 1792 and the National Defense Act of 1916 expressly referred to men, special legislation was required to allow women to join the ranks. For more than 10 years, the only women in the National Guard were nurses, but the entire military began to empower women in early 1970s. Following the policy of the US Army and Air Force, the quantity of female recruits in the National Guard began a steady increase that continues today.
Today, only the US Army alone has more men than the US National Guard. Often the Presidents were also guards. In our time, only two heads of state have had this experience: George W. Bush and Harry S. Truman. The National Guard has been activated at the federal level at least 15 times. The tragedy of September 11, 2001, Hurricane Katrina, riots in Los Angeles in 1992 is not a complete list of all the events in which the guardsmen provided various assistance.
In addition, even more recently, in 2020, about 100,000 guardsmen were activated by the state during the coronavirus pandemic. The invasion of the Capitol, protests, street riots and wildfires in California were also accompanied by the National Guard. The National Guard continues to fulfill its historic dual mission of providing states with soldiers trained to protect life and property and provide national companies with the oriented, fit, and ready to stand up for the United States and its interests worldwide.
Doubler, Michael Dale, and John W. Listman. The National Guard: An illustrated history of America’s citizen-soldiers. Potomac Books, 2003.