10 Need-To-Know Facts About the National Guard

By Sandi Gohn

The National Guard began as a militia of colonial settlers in Salem, Massachusetts, and had its first drill on December 13, 1636. Now, hundreds of years later, this military branch – which consists of the Army National Guard and the Air Force National Guard – is a pivotal part of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Officially dubbed the National Guard in 1916, this mighty U.S. military branch has created quite a legacy in its almost 400-year history. From responding to natural disasters, to deploying overseas, the members of the National Guard are far more than “part-time” warriors.

As we reflect on the anniversary of the National Guard’s founding all those years ago, here’s a look at some must-know facts about the military branch:

1. The National Guard has Participated in Every Major U.S. Conflict

Originally, the National Guard was created to help sustain and protect the then-infant American colonies. Unbeknownst to its founders, the National Guard would go on to become part of the greatest fighting force in the world, participating in every major U.S. conflict since 1636.

2. More than 50,000 National Guard Members Helped in the Hurricane Katrina Cleanup in 2005

Louisiana National Guard members and health care providers transport a patient from a helicopter into the terminal of New Orleans airport for treatment during Hurricane Katrina on Sept. 4, 2005. | Photo credit Air Force

Four years after the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina brought devastation to the Gulf Coast, creating an unprecedented need for members of the National Guard to assist impacted communities after the storm. At the time, more than 79,000 Guard members were federalized to support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but still, more than 51,000 Guard members from across the country quickly deployed to Louisiana and Mississippi to provide humanitarian relief.

3. National Guard Members Swear to Uphold Two Constitutions

When National Guard recruits swear their oath of enlistment, they promise to uphold not one, but two constitutions – the U.S. Constitution and their individual state’s constitution.

Photo credit Spc. Tori Miller/DVIDS

Soldiers and airmen in the Georgia National Guard swear the oath of enlistment at the Georgia State Capitol on March 28, 2019. During the event, one soldier and one airman enlisted in to the Georgia National Guard and two soldiers and one airman re-enlisted.

4. The National Guard has a Unique Mission

The only branch with a two-fold mission, the National Guard is tasked with providing trained units to the nation and to individual U.S. states, territories and the District of Columbia.

5. Several Presidents have Served in the National Guard

18 of America’s 45 Commander and Chiefs have served in the National Guard (or the National Guard’s predecessors, colonial and state militias).

6. Members of the National Guard are Helping with the U.S.’ Continued COVID-19 Response

Members of the West Virginia National Guard assist staff, medical personnel and first responders of an Eastbrook Center nursing home with COVID-19 testing on April 6, 2020. | Photo credit DVIDS/Edwin L. Wriston

Since March of 2020, tens of thousands of service members have been called to duty to assist the nation in its response to the global pandemic. From assisting in hospitals, to distributing food, to helping administer COVID-19 tests, these dedicated service members have played crucial roles in communities across the U.S. Since the initial onset of the pandemic, some of these service members have completed their missions and returned home, while others are still in the fight.

7. There are Special Forces Units in the National Guard

The Army National Guard’s 19th and 20th Special Forces Groups are two of these elite units. Although these National Guard members serve part-time, they must complete all the same training as their active-duty counterparts to earn the distinction of wearing the green beret.

In the Air National Guard, there are also Special Forces units that perform tasks like pararescue, search and rescue missions, and more.

8. Service Members in the National Guard Deploy to Missions Around the World

Although they are “part-time” warriors, members of the National Guard still make a big commitment when they enlist, which includes agreeing to deploy for missions at home and abroad. Typically, domestic deployments can last up to 60 days while overseas deployments can last up to a year.

Photo credit Candis Olmstead/DVIDS

Alaska Army National Guard soldiers depart to Fort Bliss where they will complete mobilization for their deployment to Kosovo in 2019.

9. There are Three Different Ways National Guard Members Can Be Called into Service.

  • #1 Each states’ executive leader (typically the governor) can activate National Guard units. In this case, the governor will serve as the commander-in-chief and the state will pay for the cost.

  • #2 The president can federalize the National Guard under Title 10 status. In this case, the president will serve as the commander-in-chief, active-duty officers will command Guard forces and the federal government will pay the cost. This is what happened during Hurricane Katrina.

  • #3 The president can federalize the National Guard under Title 32 status. In this case, each states’ governor will serve as the commander-in-chief (but will answer to the Chief of the National Guard Bureau) and the federal government will pay the cost.

10. There Are Over 400,000 Members of the National Guard

Serving in places all over the world, there are currently over 100,000 Air and 300,000 Army National Guard members as of September 2020.

-This story was originally published on USO.org in 2020. It has been updated in 2021.

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