Activating The National Guard

LA National Guardsmen at the Louisiana Department of Public Safety warehouse which is housing most of the PPE that is being distributed throughout the state during the COVID-19 response in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, April 23, 2020. (U.S. Air National Guard photo Master Sgt. Toby Valadie)

The United States National Guard holds the title for the oldest branch of the United States military. In fact, it predates the United States, all the way back to 1636. The first three established regiments still exist and operate today in the form of the 101st Engineer Battalion, 101st Field Artillery Regiment and the 182nd Infantry Regiment. And while the Guard predates the United States of America, the name does not. The name “National Guard” was first used in 1824 as a way to honor the Marquis de Lafayette and his French National Guard. The name was officially adopted 79 years later in 1903 through federal legislation. 

Every state and territory under United States jurisdiction has their own National Guard. Unlike other military branches, the National Guard operates at both a state and federal level. When guardsmen are sworn in, they swear an oath to both federal and state. The governor of their home state or the president can call upon guardsmen to assist with a variety of situations including national disasters, civil disturbances or missions that are domestic or foreign. 

Since the 1903 incorporation, the National Guard has been deployed numerous times both domestically and internationally. In 1906, following the devastating San Francisco earthquake and subsequent fire, 30,000 National Guard troops were federalized and deployed to assist. 

In the late 1950’s and throughout the 1960’s, Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson all federalized the National Guard for various desegregation and integration-related incidents including Little Rock, AK during the 1957 desegregation of Central High School and Alabama Gov. Wallace’s 1963 physical attempt to block integration at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. The Guard were deployed to Alabama again in 1965, this time to Selma where local and state law enforcement faced off with peaceful protestors and responded to their peaceful protests with brutal acts of violence. The National Guard was federalized to protect the protesters as they marched again. 

Not every assignment is quite so harrowing however. In 1970, President Nixon tasked guardsmen with sorting mail in New York during a postal strike. In 2020, a record of more than 96,000 National Guardsmen were activated to assist with a range of events including the COVID-19 pandemic, various national disasters, and civil unrest sparked by the killing of George Floyd. Finally, at the end of 2020, more than 3,600 National Guardsmen were activated in 16 states across the country to combat cyber threats, work election polls, and stand by in the case of results-prompted civil unrest. Regardless of the cause, the National Guard remains ready to serve at both a state and a federal level, on domestic or international soil. 

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Posted on December 11 2020 in Blog

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