The National Guard of the United States traces its roots back to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, long before the United States existed or even declared its independence. On 13 December 1636, the Massachusetts General Court established a militia, which makes today’s Guard our nation’s oldest military service. The General Court’s declaration is the only colonial era government-issued proclamation authorizing a militia like that stipulated in the US Constitution.
In the spring of 1637, militia regiments mustered at Salem Common to drill in the interests of defending the colony and not just Salem. Massachusetts Congressman John Tierney (D-MA-6) introduced legislation designating Salem the birthplace of the National Guard, a measure supported by the entire Massachusetts delegation. Tierney described it this way:
Among its rich history, Salem was the site where our country’s earliest military regiment met, organized and conducted drills in preparation for defending the local community.
After consideration, the House included the designation of Salem as birthplace of the National Guard in H.R. 1540, National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, which the House passed 322-96 (with 13 not voting) in May. Of Michigan’s representatives, only Justin Amash (R-3), Hansen Clarke (D-13), and John Conyers (D-14) voted against the measure. As of 7 December, the Senate-approved bill is in conference to incorporate Senate modifications.
Just as in 1637, the Guard of today consists of Citizen-Soldiers. They live, work, and go to school in the same communities as their fellow citizens. In every state and 4 territories (District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and US Virgin Islands), the Guard is just hours away when disasters or other state emergencies strike. At least since the early 1980s, Guard Soldiers and Airmen have had to meet the same training and qualification requirements as their active duty counterparts. Guard members drill 39 days a year, unless preparing for mobilization. While no one advocates eliminating the standing Army or Air Force, the Guard’s cost-effectiveness and community ties are its strengths. As Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) noted the Guard is a great value for the country. While the Reserves of all the services are also a good value, only the Guard has a dual mission in the states and in support of the national military strategy.
Our National Guard and Reserve forces have taken on a major role in our combat missions abroad, while continuing to take the lead on the front lines during disasters here at home. This nation’s increased reliance on the National Guard has earned them a seat at the table along with our active duty forces.