12-10-2013 08:30 AM
In 1636, no one had even imagined a United States of America. The English were still relative newcomers to the continent. And George Washington wouldn’t be born for nearly 100 years. There was no Army, Navy or Marines.
But there was a National Guard. English settlers had landed in the New World and established the Massachusetts Bay Colony only seven years earlier. Compared to their well-developed homeland, their new territory was a wilderness of dense forests, inhabited by wild animals and curious native people. Feeling the need for protection, the colony adopted the English system of a militia, a band of citizens who would train together and be ready to fight when needed.
On Dec. 13, 1636, the growing colony divided the militia into three formal regiments. Though the title of National Guard wouldn’t be widely adopted until much later, several branches of today’s Massachusetts Army National Guard are directly descended from those earliest units.
For that reason, each Dec. 13 is celebrated as the birthday of the National Guard. This year, America’s first military force is 377 years old.
The National Guard Today
Presence in every U.S. state, three territories and the District of Columbia.
Warriors on Call
As the years passed, the use of citizen soldiers spread throughout the colonies and gained increasing structure. After America declared its independence, the ranks evolved into state-run militias and were eventually given duties at the federal level as well.
After World War II, the Army National Guard’s aviation units were split off to form the separate Air National Guard. Today, both factions continue their dual responsibilities to serve their home states during peacetime and to supplement the nation’s full-time military forces when the country is at war.
Without question, the National Guard and its forerunners have played a profound role in shaping American history, and are perhaps underrecognized for their vital contributions and sacrifices in battle. Since the earliest days of the U.S. military, citizen soldiers have left their civilian lives behind to fight alongside their permanent counterparts, be it in the blood-soaked fields of the Civil War, the jungles of Vietnam or the deserts of Iraq.
Advocates, Protectors, Rescuers
The Guard’s legacy is not only about combat. It’s also about compassion.
While some units battle deadly insurgents in a war-torn landscape ─ tens of thousands of Guard personnel were deployed overseas in 2012 ─ others foster recovery. The Guard’s Agricultural Development Teams, for example, teach the Afghan people about self-sustaining farming practices.
Here at home, National Guard units stand ready to render aid when their neighbors need them most. This year alone, units performed lifesaving and recovery missions in response to widespread wildfires and floods in multiple U.S. states. Guard personnel rescued plane-crash survivors in Alaska, assisted tornado victims in Oklahoma, and helped coastal residents prepare for hurricane season. Guardsmen came to support the community of West, Texas, after its massive plant explosion. And they were there to ensure order and security in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing.
For 377 years, Guardsmen have carried forward the tradition of vigilance, and heroism has followed. We at USAA express our gratitude for all citizen soldiers and airmen on the birthday of the National Guard.
Copyright © 2012 USAA.
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