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The modern counterpart of the militia has the longest continuous history of any American military component. The guard's original units were organized in December 1636 as the North, South, and East Regiments of the Massachusetts Bay Colony Artillery. They served at the beginning of the twenty-first century as components of the Massachusetts Army National Guard. The name "National Guard" was first used in 1824 by New York units to honor the Marquis de Lafayette, commander of the Garde Nationale de Paris, during his visit to the newly established United States. The Marquis de Lafayette greatly assisted General George Washington during the Revolutionary War. After 1889, the term "National Guard" was adopted gradually by the militias of the various states.
From the Militia Act of 1792 to the Dick Act of 1903, the United States lacked a uniformly enforced militia policy. The modern National Guard began with the Dick Act, which divided the militia into the organized militia, or National Guard, and the unorganized militia. Units were to conform to the standards of the regular army and receive increased state and federal aid, but they were separate from the army. A 1908 amendment authorized the president to send guard units outside the country. The National Defense Act of 1916 made the guard a component of the army while in federal service and provided for regular training. The National Defense Act of 1920 established a three-component army: the regular army, the National Guard, and the organized reserves. Although the guard was considered the first-line reserve, it still was not a full-time component of the army. An amendment in 1933 created the National Guard of the United States (NGUS) as a full-time reserve component of the army. Although the composition of this force was identical to that of the state National Guard, it was subject to a call to active duty by the president without his having to go through the governor. In 1940, just prior to the outbreak of World War II, nineteen guard divisions along with their air "observation squadrons" were activated. They served in all theaters of war, garnering campaign credits and honors. After the cessation of hostilities in 1945, the War Department established the guard as a twenty-seven-division force, available for immediate service in the event of war. Under terms of the Reserve Forces Act of 1955, the army became responsible for training guard recruits for at least six months.
Upon the creation of a separate air force in 1947, the Air National Guard was formed. Many Air Guard units were formed from those that previously existed as division observation squadrons and from units that had earned campaign credits and battle honors during World War II. Both Army and Air Guard units were called to federal service in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Persian Gulf War. The Air Guard has served as an integral part of the U.S. Air Force since the beginning of the Vietnam War, when airlift units were added to its (Air Guard) flying inventory of mostly fighter units.
Reorganization in 1962 cut four divisions from authorized guard strength. In 1965, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara tried to amalgamate the guard with the reserves, but he encountered powerful opposition from Congress. Two years later fifteen divisions were cut from the force structure, leaving six infantry and two armored divisions. All National Guard unit members must serve at least forty-eight drills and fifteen days of field training annually. They must also conform to the regulations and requirements of the Departments of the Army and Air Force. From the 1980s into the twenty-first century, Army and Air National Guard units have been called to serve in all of the major contingency operations that have involved the United States.
Aside from being used in wartime, guard units have also given aid in times of natural disasters and maintained order during civil disturbances.
Doubler, Michael D. Closing with the Enemy: How GIs Fought the War in Europe, 1944–1945. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1994.
Mahon, John K. History of the Militia and the National Guard. New York, Macmillan, 1983.
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