Frontier to Nation: The 380 Year Journey of The National Guard

It’s hard to imagine a time in the country without the National Guard. That’s because it predates the founding of the nation, the signing of the Charters of Freedom, and even before the colonists dumped tea into Boston Harbor. The Guard is part of the reserve components of the United States Army and is made of units from each state and the territories.

The difference between the National Guard and the United States Armed Forces is the Guard serves both state and federal governments and is a volunteer, part-time force. This year on December 13th, the National Guard will celebrate 380 years of service to the United States of America and its territories.

The Guard dates back to the late 1630’s, when it was first organized to be a readied force in the Salem, Massachusetts area. Many of the original colonies felt that it was necessary to provide protection for its people during the process of drawing the colonial border lines. The English settlers had also made failed attempts to colonize in parts of the Massachusetts frontier and in other parts of the continent.

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The Massachusetts General Court in Salem wanted to create a colonial wide force to keep the peace, to defend the colonies from any aggressors, and to expand colonization of the continent by having a force trained in military tactics. On December 13th, the General Court issued a proclamation to establish an “able-bodied” militia made up of local men between the ages of 16 and 60. This was the first time in the history of the continent that a direct declaration was issued to create a fighting force.

In modern times, The National Guard has been mobilized during raging storms and changing tides. Throughout history, their mobilization helped during the American Revolution as the country expanded towards freedom from Great Britain. The Guard protected African-American children get to school during the integration of the American education system. When Hurricane Katrina came ashore in Louisiana, the National Guard from the surrounding states came together to help save lives and deliver food to those in need.

The National Guard began protecting the frontier and people of 13 unruly colonies. In modern times, The National Guard stands at 1.4 million strong. It is an all volunteer force that protects 50 United States, the territories, works part-time, and can be mobilized to deploy abroad to assist their counterparts of the Armed Forces.

“The National Guard has served America as both a wartime force and the first military responders in times of domestic crisis. Hundreds of times each year, the nation’s governors call upon their Guard troops to respond to fires, floods, hurricanes and other natural disasters,” said Russel Honore retired Lieutenant General and 33rd Commanding General of the U.S. First Army at Fort Gillem.

The National Guard has even deployed abroad to fight alongside the military in campaigns during World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. In World War I, the units of the Guard made up 40% of the expeditionary forces. In World War II, nearly 175,000 guardsmen gave their lives for the ideals of freedom for all. Nearly 139,000 guardsman reported for duty during the Korean War from 1950-1952. Lastly, nearly 50% of the guardsmen have deployed overseas for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. The work for them never stops.

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There are several historic events, at home, that stand out in the national memory where The National Guard had to step in to to help the citizenry of the United States.

In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that all American schools should be integrated with no racial barrier. However, the governor in Arkansas did not agree with the landmark decision of Brown v. Board of Education and decided to place the Arkansas National Guard in front of Central High School. This move was to prevent African-American students from entering the school thus continuing a long tradition of segregation.

The students who were turned away from the school became known as the Little Rock Nine. Eventually, President Dwight Eisenhower intervened and ordered the National Guard to escort the children to school in a peaceful and orderly manner. In an address to the nation the president stated, “The running of our school system and the maintenance of peace and order in each of our States are strictly local affairs and the Federal Government does not interfere except in a very few special cases and when requested by one of the several States. In the present case the troops are there, pursuant to law, solely for the purpose of preventing interference with the orders of the Court.” The students did have the chance to attend school but still faced the bitterness of racial discrimination.

Hurricane Katrina was one of the most devastating natural disasters in the history of the United States with a death toll over 1,800 between the states of Louisiana and Mississippi. It is yet another example where The National Guard moved into to help their fellow countrymen and women. There were some 50,000 guardsmen that jumped into action. In an article by the US Army, retired Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum said, “By any measure, it was the fastest, most massive military response to any natural disaster that has ever happened. Our response was the epitome of what the National Guard is and why it is a national treasure.” The guardsmen had to act quickly to restore peace and order in the parishes, deliver supplies, rescue those who needed help, and much more. It has been described as their “finest hour.”

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Much has changed in the United States of America in 380 years. Since the beginning, when settlers came from far off lands to start anew in America, their hope for a better tomorrow was at the forefront of their thoughts. There was most certainly a need to provide safe communities for everyone. It took a colonial court in 1636 to establish a protective and expeditionary force of farmers, businessmen, and boys. However, over the years as America grew so did The National Guard. It became an organized and well trained force that provided assistance at home and abroad. The times and people of the country has changed but one thing that has remained the same is the commitment of The National Guard.

Presently, acts of their duty are on display as the Tennessee National Guard battles the wildfires in East Tennessee. The Purple Heart Foundation remains committed to assisting veterans in all aspects of their lives. Nearly 90% of cash donations fund the National Service Officer Program, the Scholarship Program, service dog programs, and other recreational and rehabilitative programs. The Purple Heart Foundation wants to convey appreciation for The National Guard and extend best wishes on their 380th Birthday! You can show your support for these brave men and women who have sacrificed so much for America by making a one-time or monthly pledge to ensure veterans continue to get the support and benefits they deserve by clicking here.


 

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