Posted on Dec 17, 2012 | Category: USAA News

This content is provided courtesy of USAA.

In 1636, no one had even imagined a United States of America. The English were still relative newcomers to the continent. And George Washington wouldn’t be born for nearly 100 years. There was no Army, Navy or Marines.

The National Guard Today

  • Motto: “Always Ready, Always There”
  • Dual allegiance to state and federal governments
  • 358,200 citizen soldiers
  • 2,800 armories
  • 106,700 citizen airmen
  • The ANG provides 35 percent of the Air Force’s capability
  • Presence in every U.S. state, three territories and the District of Columbia

But there was a National Guard. English settlers had landed in the New World and established the Massachusetts Bay Colony only seven years earlier. Compared to their well-developed homeland, their new territory was a wilderness of dense forests, inhabited by wild animals and curious natives. Feeling the need for protection, the colony adopted the English system of a militia, a band of citizens who would train together and be ready to fight when needed.

On Dec. 13, 1636, the growing colony divided the militia into three formal and separate regiments. Though the title of National Guard wouldn’t be widely adopted until much later, several branches of today’s Massachusetts Army National Guard are directly descended from those earliest units.

For that reason, each Dec. 13 is celebrated as the birthday of the National Guard. This year, America’s first military force is 376 years old.

Warriors on Call

As the years passed, the use of citizen soldiers spread throughout the colonies and gained increasing structure. And, after America declared its independence, the ranks evolved into state-run militias and were eventually given duties at the federal level as well.

After World War II, the Army National Guard’s aviation units were split off to form the separate Air National Guard. Today, both factions continue their dual responsibilities to serve their home states during peacetime and to supplement the nation’s full-time military forces when the country is at war.

Without question, the National Guard and its forerunners have played a profound role in shaping American history, and are perhaps underrecognized for their vital contributions and sacrifices in battle. Since the earliest days of the U.S. military, citizen soldiers have left their civilian lives behind to fight alongside their permanent counterparts, be it in the blood-soaked fields of the Civil War, the jungles of Vietnam or the deserts of Iraq.

Advocates, Protectors, Saviors

The Guard’s legacy is not only about combat. It’s also about compassion.

While some units battle deadly insurgents in a war-torn landscape — tens of thousands of Guard personnel were deployed overseas in 2012 — others foster regrowth. The Guard’s Agricultural Development Teams, for example, teach the Afghan people about self-sustaining farming practices.

Here at home, National Guard units stand ready to render aid when their neighbors need them most. This year alone, units performed lifesaving and recovery missions in response to widespread wildfires throughout Western states and following Hurricane Isaac along the Gulf Coast and Sandy on the Eastern Seaboard. Guard personnel help to secure our borders, with extensive service this year along the border with Mexico. During the presidential campaign, Guard units helped provide security for the Republican and Democratic conventions.

For 376 years, Guardsmen have carried forward the tradition of vigilance, and heroism has followed. We at USAA express our gratitude for all citizen soldiers and airmen on the birthday of the National Guard.