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The History and Purpose of the National Guard

The Guard stands ready to defend Americans in many ways, and has done so since 1636.

By:  |  June 22, 2020  |    440 Words
US National Guard (Kent Nishimura Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

US National Guard (Kent Nishimura Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

From calls to supply extra protection on the southern border to dealing with civil unrest in U.S. cities, the National Guard has many roles in the nation today. The National Guard is a part of the U.S. military, mostly made up of reserve guardsmen who work part-time for the armed forces. It’s run by the Department of Defense, along with the Army and Air Force. As well as a national force, each state also has its own National Guard.

It doesn’t happen often, but if the president of the United States believes an event is especially dangerous to the public, he or she can send in the National Guard. The 1952 Armed Forces Reserve Act allows the president to make the decision with or without the support of a state’s governor. Here are some occasions the National Guard has been called in:

  1. 1957-58 Desegregation of Little Rock school
  2. 1962 Integration of University of Mississippi
  3. 1963 Integration of University of Alabama
  4. 1963 Integration of Alabama schools
  5. 1965 Selma, Montgomery civil rights march
  6. 1967 Detroit riots
  7. 1968 Chicago riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
  8. 1968 Washington riots following King’s assassination
  9. 1968 Baltimore riots following King’s assassination
  10. 1970 New York City postal strike
  11. 1989 Looting after Hurricane Hugo
  12. 1992 Riots after Rodney King verdict
Historic Massachusetts Guard Unit Deploys to Iraq

First Battalion of the 181st Infantry Regiment of the Massachusetts National Guard (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

During civil unrest in major cities in 2020, the National Guard was activated in at least 23 states to quell riots. It was also called to protect the Capitol building after protesters stormed Congress in 2021.

The Guard isn’t only deployed to deal with civil unrest. On any given day, 2,000 to 4,000 National Guard men and women are on duty for a variety of reasons. The largest activation of the guard came in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, and later Hurricane Rita, devastated the southeast coast – hitting hardest in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Over 50,000 Army and Air Guard members responded – while 80,000 were serving actively on duty in other regions of the world, mostly fighting in the Iraq War.

The National Guard has a long history of protecting the United States. It might not seem possible, but the Guard has been active for almost 400 years. That’s because the National Guard has its roots in the militia culture that predates an official army in the United States.

It was December 13, 1636, in the new colonies of North America that the first militia regiments were organized in Massachusetts Bay. Those first four regiments – the 181st Infantry, 182nd Infantry, 101st Field Artillery, and 101st Engineer Battalion – are still a part of the Massachusetts State National Guard.

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