The National Guard has been in the news regularly over the last 18 months – from calls to supply extra protection on the southern border to today’s civil unrest in many of the largest U.S. cities as looters, rioters, and protests continue over the death of a Minnesota man in police custody. Many state governors have activated their regiments to step in, as local law enforcement is overwhelmed.
Although exceedingly rare, at times, if the president of the United States deems events to be unlawful obstruction of commerce, dangerous assembly – like riots – or out-right rebellion by citizens, he or she can authorize the National Guard to intercede. The Guard has been called in by presidents a total of 12 times after the 1952 Armed Forces Reserve Act was created. This law allows the president to make the decision with or without the support of a state’s governor.
- 1957-58 Desegregation of Little Rock school
- 1962 Integration of University of Mississippi
- 1963 Integration of University of Alabama
- 1963 Integration of Alabama schools
- 1965 Selma, Montgomery civil rights march
- 1967 Detroit riots
- 1968 Chicago riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
- 1968 Washington riots following King’s assassination
- 1968 Baltimore Riots following King’s assassination
- 1970 New York City postal strike
- 1989 Looting after Hurricane Hugo
- 1992 Riots after Rodney King verdict
On any given day, 2,000 to 4,000 National Guard men and women are on duty for a variety of reasons, and they live up to their motto of “Always Ready, Always There” at a moment’s notice. 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 – with 80,000 serving actively on duty in other regions of the world – mostly fighting in the Iraq War.
The attacks on 9/11 also demonstrated the readiness of the Guard. On its website, the Guard reminds us: “Within 24 hours of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., 15 ANG [Air National Guard] units had flown 179 fighter missions and 18 ANG tanker wings had generated 78 aircraft.”
The National Guard has a long history of protecting the United States. And you might be surprised how long it’s has been active. It doesn’t seem possible, but the Guard has been active for 384 years.
It was December 13, 1636, in the new colonies of North America that the first militia regiments were organized in Massachusetts Bay. At the time, the colony was governed by the General Court, and the militia was organized to protect the settlement. Those first four regiments – the 181st Infantry, 182nd Infantry, 101st Field Artillery, and 101st Engineer Battalion – are still operational in the Massachusetts State National Guard. Every state in the Union – and before statehood, every territory – has been protected by the National Guard.