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History of the Army National Guard

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In 1916, another act was passed, guaranteeing the state militias' status as the Army's primary reserve force, and requiring that all states rename their militia "National Guard". The National Defense Act of 1916 prescribed qualifications for National Guard officers and allowed them to attend U.S. Army schools; required that each National Guard unit would be inspected and recognized by the War Department; and ordered that National Guard units would be organized like regular Army units. The act also specified that Guardsmen would be paid not just for annual training, but also for their drills.

The First World War

The National Defense Act of 1916 was passed while the Mexican bandit and revolutionary Pancho Villa was raiding the border towns of the Southwest. The entire National Guard was called to active duty by President Woodrow Wilson, and within four months, 158,000 Guardsmen were in place along the Mexican border.

Guardsmen stationed on the border in 1916 saw no action. But in the spring of 1917, the U.S. declared war on Germany and entered World War I, and the Guardsmen had a chance to put their training to good use.

The National Guard played a major role in World War I. Its units were organized into divisions by state, and those divisions made up 40% of the combat strength of the American Expeditionary Force. Three of the first five U.S. Army divisions to enter combat in World War I were from the National Guard. Further, the highest number of World War I Medals of Honor recipients were from the 30th Division, made up of National Guardsmen from the Carolinas and Tennessee.

Between the Wars

The years between World Wars I and II were quiet ones for the Army and for the National Guard. The most significant developments occurred in what would become known as the Air National Guard.

The National Guard had a few "aeroplanes" before World War I, but only two New York aviation units were formally organized. After the war, Army organization charts called for each division to have an observation squadron (the primary mission of aircraft in those days was reconnaissance), and the National Guard was eager to form their own squadrons. By 1930, the National Guard had 19 observation squadrons. The Depression put an end to the activation of new flying units, but several more would be organized just before the U.S. entered World War II.

Preparing to Fight

By the summer of 1940, World War II was raging. Much of Europe was in the hands of Nazi Germany. In the fall of 1940, the nation's first peacetime draft was enacted and the National Guard was called to active duty.

The draft and mobilization were to last for only one year, but in September 1941, the term of service for draftees and mobilized Guardsmen was extended. Three months later the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entered World War II.

World War II

All 18 National Guard divisions all saw combat in World War II, and were split between the Pacific and European theatres. National Guardsmen fought from the beginning. Three National Guard units participated in the heroic defense of Bataan in the Philippines before finally surrendering to the Japanese in the spring of 1942. When the U.S. Marines needed reinforcements on Guadalcanal in the autumn of 1942, North Dakota's 164th Infantry became the first large body of U.S. Army troops to fight offensively in World War II. In the European theater, one National Guard division, the 34th from Minnesota, Iowa, and South Dakota, was the first to arrive overseas, and among the first into combat, in North Africa. The 34th went on to spend the rest of the war fighting in Italy, and claimed more actual combat days than any other World War II division.

The Korean War

The years following World War II saw the creation of the U.S. Air Force from what had been the U.S. Army Air Forces. National Guard flying units became part of the new service, creating the Air National Guard. The new reserve component did not have long to wait before its first combat test.

The Korean War began in June 1950 when North Korea invaded South Korea. Within two months, the first of 138,600 Army National Guardsmen were mobilized and National Guard units began arriving in South Korea in January of 1951. By the summer of 1951 a large number of non-divisional engineer and artillery units in Korea were from the National Guard. In November, two National Guard infantry divisions, the 40th from California and the 45th from Oklahoma arrived to fight the North Koreans and Chinese.

The Turbulent 60's

Information Courtesy of the Army National Guard

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