This year, the National Guard celebrates its 375th birthday on Dec. 13. After serving the country for almost four centuries, I think it’s time to re-introduce ourselves!
The National Guard traces its origins to the militias of the 13 original English colonies in North America. The oldest units were organized on December 13, 1636, in the Massachusetts Bay Colony militia. This makes the Guard the oldest component of the armed forces of the United States, and one of the oldest military organizations in the world. The Rhode Island National Guard was not far behind. We trace our roots to 1638 with the formation of the first colonial defensive force: the Traine Band of Portsmouth.
The founding fathers recognized the importance of the militia in American society by writing it into the U.S. Constitution. Power was divided between the individual states and the federal government. This dual state-federal organization still characterizes the National Guard today and this relationship is unique in the world.
When the Guard is in state duty status assisting Rhode Islanders during times of emergency, civic disturbance or other reasons authorized by state law, we are under state command and control and ordered to duty by the governor. At these times the governor, in essence, is our commander-in-chief.
Under federal status, the National Guard can be either under state control and training for our federal mission (where we spend the majority of our time), or under federal command and control during times of mobilization to active duty when supporting combat operations.
Throughout our history the Guard has often been an invisible but vital force. Most days, we are among you in the community, though likely unnoticed – your accountant, doctor, mechanic, mailman, policeman, or the pilot of your flight – true to our reputation as Citizen-Soldiers.
Unlike our great active-duty brothers and sisters, we aren’t located on military installations behind guarded gates. We are not apart from the community. We are a part of your community. The National Guard is present in more than 3,300 communities in every state and U.S. territory. This includes 13 communities here in Rhode Island. When Americans want to reach out to their military, those within reach are most often the proud members in the National Guard.
The world as we know it, since 9-11, has become increasingly more complex from a national security perspective. The enemy is no longer easily identified with a specific country wearing a military uniform as we do. Rather, the enemy is often transnational in nature, and global in reach. Its primary tool is terrorism. The National Guard has learned to adapt to meet the challenges of new global threats and has become a combat-proven and highly capable and cost effective force in order to meet these 21st Century demands. In our 375th Year, we remain: Ready, Relevant, and Reliable.
Since the attacks of September 11th, the National Guard mobilized nearly 650,000 soldiers and airmen in support of overseas operations. Rhode Island, with slightly more than 3,200 National Guard members, has the nation’s second highest per-capita deployment rate as we have answered the call to more than 5,600 deployment requests. Many, if not most, of our soldiers and airmen have deployed multiple times. We have never been closer to our minuteman roots than we are this very day, leaving our jobs and our families in order to answer the call to our nation’s defense. The National Guard remains a critically essential component of our common defense adding to a proud history of service, which has seen the state’s militias called into federal service in every conflict since the War of 1812.
The Rhode Island National Guard alone has an impressive history of distinguished service and accomplishment since 1638. We were responsible for the first overt act of war against England with the sinking of the NMS Liberty of Newport in 1769 and, first again to form the nation’s original all-Black unit in 1778, the First Rhode Island, who served with distinction in combat at both Boston and Yorktown. We deployed more than 23,000 Rhode Island Militia members to fight for the Union during the Civil War, 1,685 of whom made the supreme sacrifice, and seven of whom who earned the Medal of Honor. In 1916, we again federalized our field artillery and cavalry units to assist General John J. Pershing in repelling Poncho Villas aggression on the U.S.-Mexican border, which was shortly followed by the federalization of more than 3,800 Rhode Island National Guard members as part of the famed 26th Yankee Division in World War I. World War II saw the further mobilization of more than 3,000 Rhode Island National Guard members in support of combat operations in both the Pacific and European theatres of operation. The Rhode Island National Guard was there in Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and today, in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Historically, the Guard is always ready to serve as federal defender. But just as important is our distinct mission as state protector during times of crises, disaster and need in American communities. The National Guard can rapidly respond to any natural or manmade disaster – saving lives, easing human suffering and protecting property, working closely with our local first responders from each community.
Here in the U.S. – in the last year alone – more than 18,000 Guard members from 13 states responded to recovery efforts when tornados ravaged the south, severe flooding impacted the Midwest and Southeast, and wildfires burned in a half-dozen states. Since March of 2010, more than 1,000 Rhode Island National Guard members have been mobilized to domestic relief missions for the Great Floods, two hurricanes and multiple snow events.
The National Guard has proven time and time again that we are a full-time force at a part-time cost. The Army National Guard provides 40 percent of the Army’s forces at just 11 percent of the budget while the Air National Guard provides 19 percent of the Air Force’s total personnel and 30 to 40 percent of the Air Force fighter, tanker and airlift capacity for a scant 7 percent of the budget. In these financially austere times, the National Guard is security America can afford!
Our units have performed admirably in combat over the centuries and during the past decade, successfully serving alongside or relieving the full-time force in the battle. In addition to our combat missions, we have trained alongside and integrated with civil authorities for domestic emergencies here at home. You need only look at the Rhode Island National Guard as evidence of our value. Whether it was our 143rd Airlift Wing being selected as the Air Force’s first operational unit to field and fly into combat the newest model of the venerable C-130J Hercules aircraft; the multiple deployments of our 43rd Military Police Brigade, called upon for their unique expertise in detention operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan; or the domestic contributions made daily by our 13th Civil Support Team, the National Guard is value added!
Much has changed since the first decades of the 17th Century when the English brought their militia tradition with them to the New World. But almost four centuries later, the men and women of your National Guard are still protecting and defending their neighbors from within our borders and beyond.
Always Ready, Always There to serve this Nation for liberty, protection and peace.