Just as we were gearing up for Christmas, and going almost unnoticed amid the chaos of the season, the National Guard celebrated its 374th birthday. Tracing its roots back to December 13, 1636 when the colonies were little more than tentative footholds along the east coast, the Guard has endured as one of the oldest military institutions in the world. The tradition of militias came to America with the British, when colonists were organized into military units to provide for self-protection. Since its first official muster in Salem, Massachusetts the Guard has stood a continuous watch over American citizens.
The term “National Guard” originated in 1825, when the New York militia adopted the name in tribute to General Lafayette who had called his unit the “Garde Nationale.” In 1916, all U.S. militias adopted “National Guard” as their official title. (From the National Guard website www.ng.mil.)
The dual nature of the Guard is unique. Organized as entities within their respective states, Guard units can also be deployed by the President for national defense. In the latter capacity, the Guard has served in every major conflict in the history of the country. 40 percent of the troops who fought in WWI were Guardsmen.
And they are still out there. My state’s National Guard unit, the 116th Cavalry Brigade, is on deployment in SW Asia right now.
The National Guard embodies the spirit of all Americans, I think. It stands as the manifestation of the citizen soldier, ready to take up arms to protect and defend the homeland, even if the battle takes its members thousands of miles away.
And just like the birthday of their service, today’s Guardsmen go about their business quietly, with little fanfare. But they are there, and always have been – and we salute them for their service. The National Guard and its Guardsmen are our heroes of the week.