Get Task & Purpose in your inbox
Why The National Guard Needs Its Community Connection
It was a beautiful spring evening as my convoy traversed the country roads en route from our state training area back to the armory. It had been a weekend of continuous field operations for my unit, and the soldiers, while tired, were happy to have conducted solid training. As we passed through the small villages and towns, people would wave, honk, or yell, “Thank you,” to the convoy as it rolled by. In a few cases, families stopped their barbecues to stand alongside the road together and wave as we went by. I was struck with the thought that if I was on active duty and coming back from the training area, this would never happen. The National Guard’s community connection is truly unique. And unfortunately, we’re on the verge of losing it.
The National Guard as a concept first originated in the 1890s but the idea of an organized militia has been in existence since the 1600s. Descended from the English militia system, the National Guard is founded on a legal status that gave civilians the authority to bear arms and use them in times of crisis. Over the centuries, it has been as much a political as military organization. During the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and the subsequent debate between the Federalists and Antifederalists, the role of the militia versus national army was hotly debated. Thomas Jefferson, for one, came out strongly in favor of a volunteer militia, arguing that it would be firmly rooted in the community and therefore have more to fight for. The ensuing War of 1812 demonstrated that a militia alone was not effective for national defense, but on many occasions the militia came out in force to defend their homes and families.
After the establishment of the National Guard in 1893 and the subsequent National Defense acts of 1903 and 1916 that gave the regular Army more purview over the Guard, it still remained a community-centric organization. The development of permanent state and federal-funded armories in community centers helped keep the National Guard in the public eye. Armories themselves became centers of community events, such as dances, meetings, and courses of instruction. They were purposely placed inside the community to reflect from where the National Guard drew its base of manpower and support.
When National Guard units were mobilized in 1898 during the Spanish-American War, 1916 during the Mexican Border Expedition, and 1917 during World War I, the communities came out to see them off in style, because they were the sons, fathers, and brothers of everyone in the town. When the trains returned in the dreadful summer and fall of 1918 bearing flag-draped coffins, the communities received their loved ones with solemnity and mourning. And when the troops came home, their communities welcomed them with parades, fetes, and other outpourings of appreciation. These scenes continued throughout the 1940s as the National Guard units mobilized and left for Europe and the Pacific.
Community remained central to the National Guard through the Cold War period. Towns and cities took pride in their National Guard units and local newspapers reported Guard annual training events, promotions, and general goings-on. National Guard units had sports teams that competed against each other and other teams in the community. The National Guard was viewed as very much a community-centric organization, rather than a military-centric organization.
Of course, this came with downsides. Nepotism was common within the Guard (some might say it still lingers) and training events were often less about training and more about camaraderie. The stereotype of the “weekend warrior” developed from this propensity to get together and drink beer rather than do Army training to the standard. Guard discipline was noticeably more lax than the Army because it was hard for people who had been friends all their lives to make necessary unpopular decisions. These are broad statements and do not reflect all units, of course. Training, readiness, and equipping often lagged behind the regular Army, making many question if the Guard could really augment the regulars as part of the “Total Force” concept in the event of a large conflict.
Things changed after 9/11. The National Guard entered an unprecedented era of readiness and deployments to the Middle East and Southwest Asia. Guard units received new equipment at the same time as the Army through the rapid fielding initiative prior to deployments. Training went from in-state venues to individual and unit training alongside regular Army personnel at regular Army facilities. Readiness grew as units filled with experienced personnel with multiple combat deployments. Where combat patches and badges were once hardly seen in the Guard, they now became the norm. The Guard took its place alongside other components in long-term planning and strategy, moving toward a new professionalism among citizen soldiers.
Fourteen years of war has taken its toll on the Guard. As it has shifted its priorities to meet those in Washington, it has moved away from its communities. New armories are no longer multi-purpose drill halls, but state-of-the-art military facilities for military use only. Most are so large that they have to be built outside the community centers and are inaccessible to the public. Out of public sight, the Guard takes on the auspices of the Army. Although the Army enjoys a level of confidence and trust among the general public, the old American tradition of distrust of a standing army is still an undercurrent in society. The Guard has often bridged this gap, putting common soldiers in the public light where they can be seen and recognized for what they are: normal people. The Guard has made the soldier relatable.
As it stands now, the National Guard runs the risk of losing the community touch completely as it becomes more aligned with the regular Army. If this trend continues, it could lose touch completely and sever the vital community links that make the Guard unique among the armed forces. This would be an unmitigated disaster. The American people need that link between themselves and the military, and the Guard is that link. As Army leadership contemplates force structure and the future role of the Guard in national policy, it must consider the role of the Guard in the community. We cannot lose sight of our roots.
Former Marine Commandant tells Trump that pardoning troops accused of war crimes 'relinquishes the moral high ground'
Former Marine Commandant Gen. Charles Krulak has issued a statement urging President Donald Trump and members of Congress to oppose pardons for those accused or convicted of war crimes since, he argued, it would "relinquish the United States' moral high ground."
"If President Trump follows through on reports that he will mark Memorial Day by pardoning individuals accused or convicted of war crimes, he will betray these ideals and undermine decades of precedent in American military justice that has contributed to making our country's fighting forces the envy of the world," said Krulak, who served in the Marine Corps for more than three decades before retiring in 1999 as the 31st Commandant.
Editor's Note: The following story highlights a veteran at Associated Materials. Committed to including talented members of the military community in its workplace, Associated Materials Incorporated is a client of Hirepurpose, a Task & Purpose sister company. Learn more here.
Associated Materials, a residential and commercial siding and window manufacturer based in Ohio, employs people from a variety of backgrounds. The company gives them an opportunity to work hard and grow within the organization. For Tim Betsinger, Elizabeth Dennis, and Tanika Carroll, all military veterans with wide-ranging experience, Associated Materials has provided a work environment similar to the military and a company culture that feels more like family than work.
President Donald Trump will nominate Barbara Barrett to serve as the next Air Force secretary, the president announced on Tuesday.
"I am pleased to announce my nomination of Barbara Barrett of Arizona, and former Chairman of the Aerospace Corporation, to be the next Secretary of the Air Force," Trump tweeted. "She will be an outstanding Secretary! #FlyFightWin"
The Trump administration is trying to assure Congress that it does not want to start a war with Iran, but some lawmakers who fought in Iraq are not so sure.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford both briefed Congress on Tuesday about Iran. Shanahan told reporters earlier on Tuesday that the U.S. military buildup in the region has stopped Iran and its proxies from attacking U.S. forces, but the crisis is not yet over.
"We've put on hold the potential for attacks on Americans," Shanahan said. "That doesn't mean that the threats that we've previously identified have gone away. Our prudent response, I think, has given the Iranians time to recalculate. I think our response was a measure of our will and our resolve that we will protect our people and our interests in the region."
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump warned on Monday Iran would be met with "great force" if it attacked U.S. interests in the Middle East, and government sources said Washington strongly suspects Shi'ite militias with ties to Tehran were behind a rocket attack in Baghdad's Green Zone.
"I think Iran would be making a very big mistake if they did anything," Trump told reporters as he left the White House on Monday evening for an event in Pennsylvania. "If they do something, it will be met with great force but we have no indication that they will."