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The US National Guard's 400-Year History

January 19, 2021 in History

By Lesley Kennedy

The reserve force of men and women traces its roots to Colonial America.

Founded in 1636 as a citizen force, the U.S. National Guard is a “ready” reserve group of 450,000 men and women voluntarily serving in all 50 states and four U.S. territories. Guard members hold civilian jobs and maintain part-time military training. They are called to service in times of civil unrest, natural disasters, labor strikes, wars, health emergencies and riots.

Uniquely existing as both a state and federal force, as per the on May 7, 1915, Congress passed, and President Woodrow Wilson signed into law, the National Defense Act of 1916, which made significant changes to the organization, including giving it the official name of National Guard, increasing and standardizing training, adding funding, administering annual inspections and requiring the passage of fitness and eligibility tests.

“The law codified the dual state and federal mission of the National Guard and required new Guardsmen to swear allegiance to both the Constitution of the United States and their state of record,” the Guard notes. “The president of the United States could now federalize the National Guard in time of declared federal emergency and provided for expeditionary service.”

After the United States entered World War I, Harry S. Truman, as a captain in the Missouri National Guard, fought in Argonne, France in 1918 with the U.S. First Army. During that conflict, Harlem’s celebrated Hellfighters, a group of black guardsmen who fought as the 369th Infantry Regiment, were given the Croix de Guerre French military decoration for their heroism.

In September 1940, with America’s entry into World War II on the horizon, President Franklin D. Roosevelt called up the National Guard for a year of training. “The federalization of the Guard doubled the size of America’s active duty forces,” the USO reports. “That, combined with the institution of America’s first peacetime draft, provided the manpower for America’s eventual intervention in Europe.”

READ MORE: The Pictures that Defined World War II

The National Guard in Modern Times

Armed National Guard soldiers hold a line in front of a post office in South Central, Los Angeles, where several days of rioting took place due to the acquittal of the LAPD officers who beat Rodney King.

Today, only the U.S. Army boasts more members than the National Guard, and while 10 presidents, including George …read more


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