National Guard, America’s oldest fighting force, celebrates 383rd birthday December 13

The U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps celebrated their respective 244th birthdays, 28 days apart, in October and November. The U.S. Army was born on June 14 of that same year, 1775.

But no American fighting force can match the longevity of the National Guard, which turns 383 years old this week.

“The National Guard has a storied history of service that in no small part led to the creation of this nation,” said Vito Imbasciani MD, Secretary of the California Department of Veterans Affairs. “CalVet wishes the National Guard a happy 383rd birthday!”

1917 California National Guard poster.
1917 California National Guard poster.

The National Guard considers December 13, 1636 as its birthday, formed as the militia on the order of the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s general court. The militia, according to the National Guard’s website, “was organized into three permanent regiments to defend the colony better. Today, the descendants of these first regiments, the 181st Infantry, the 182nd Infantry, the 101st Field Artillery, and the 101st EngineerBattalion of the Massachusetts Army National Guard, share the distinction of being the oldest units in the U.S. military.”

The National Guard today consists of over 337,000 troops from all states and territories. Per the U.S. Constitution, each state has its own National Guard and the governor of that state is in essence its commander in chief. The governor can call the guard to respond to statewide emergencies including storms, fires, earthquakes, or civil disturbances.

The president can summon the National Guard for federal missions, and Guard members have fought in the most recent wars and conflicts.

California’s National Guard, like National Guards in so many other states, evolved from militias that organized before statehood. Some ultimately became the forces that fought in the revolt against Mexico in 1846, though California’s first official militia didn’t form until 1849. A year later, California became a state and within four years mustered 24 companies totaling 1,500 troops.

California companies fought for the North in the Civil War, and alongside federal troops in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War.

The federal Militia Act (the Dick Act) of 1903 standardized state military forces to become more like federal forces; it demanded that state military forces follow federal standardized state military forces, and that the state forces have the same organization, equipment, discipline, and pay as the federal forces.

The National Defense Act of 1916 became the footing for the modern National Guard.

The California Guard fought in France in World War I in 1917 including forces that became the California Air National Guard. California National Guard troops have fought in every war since, aided victims of natural disasters, destroyed illegal marijuana grows, suppressed prison riots, and provided control at demonstrations.

With a motto of “Always Ready, Always There,” a moving passage titled “I Am the Guard” posted on the Guard’s web page tells its story:

“Civilian in Peace, Soldier in War … of security and honor for three centuries I have been the custodian … I am the Guard!

At Concord’s bridge, I fired the fateful shot heard ’round the world. I bled on Bunker Hill. My footprints marked the snows at Valley Forge. With Washington on the heights of Yorktown, I saw the sword surrendered … I am the Guard. These things I know – I was there! I saw both sides of the War Between the States – I was there! The hill at San Juan felt the fury of my charge; the far plains and mountains of the Philippines echoed to my shout. In France the dark forests of the Argonne blazed with my barrage; Chateau-Thierry crumbled to my cannonade.

I am the Guard. I bowed briefly on the grim road at Bataan. Through the jungles and on the beaches I fought the enemy … beat, battered, and broke him. I scrambled over Normandy’s beaches – I was there! I flew MiG Alley to the Yalu – I am the Guard! I fought in the skies above Vietnam – I was there! In the skies and on the ground, I made the Arabian desert feel the fury of the storm. I am the Guard!

Civilian in peace, soldier in war … the stricken have known the comfort of my skill. I have faced forward to the tornado, the typhoon, and the horror of the hurricane and the flood. I saw the tall towers fall – I was there!

I am the Guard. For three centuries the custodian of security and honor, now and forever … I am the Guard.”

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