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History of the Army National Guard

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The 1960's began with a partial mobilization of the National Guard as part of the U.S. response to the Soviet Union's building of the Berlin Wall. Although none left the United States, nearly 45,000 Army Guardsmen spent a year in Active Federal Service.

As the decade progressed, President Lyndon Johnson made the fateful political decision not to mobilize the Reserves to fight the Vietnam War, but to rely on the draft instead. But when the bombshell of the Viet Cong Tet Offensive struck in 1968, 34 Army National Guard units found themselves alerted for active duty, eight of which served in South Vietnam.

Some National Guard units that remained in the U.S. still found themselves on the front lines. As urban riots and then anti-war demonstrations swept parts of the country in the late 1960s, the Guard, in its role as a state militia, was called upon increasingly for riot control duties.

For the country as a whole, the 1960's were a period of social change. Those changes were mirrored in the National Guard, particularly in its racial and ethnic composition.

Beginning with New Jersey in 1947, the northern states began the process of racially integrating their National Guards. The landmark Civil Rights Act of 1965 forced the Southern states to follow suit, and 25 years later African-Americans made up nearly one-quarter of the Army National Guard.

African-American men had a history of militia service stretching back to colonial days; women, regardless of race, did not. Because the Militia Act of 1792 and the National Defense Act of 1916 had referred specifically to "males", it took special legislation to allow women to join. For 15 years the only women in the National Guard were nurses, but in the 1970s, all the armed services began expanding opportunities for women. Following Army and Air Force policies, the National Guard saw its number of women recruits begin a steady rise that continues today.

The "Total Force" Goes to War

The end of the draft in 1973 ushered in a period of tremendous change for the U.S. military. Cut off from their source of cheap manpower and under pressure to cut costs, the active services realized they must make better use of their reserve components. The Air Guard had been integrated into the workings of the Air Force since the mid-1950s. By the mid-1970s the "Total Force" policy resulted in more Army National Guard missions, equipment, and training opportunities than ever before.

The National Guard shared in the huge defense buildup initiated by President Ronald Reagan. In 1977, the first small Army National Guard detachment had traveled overseas to spend their two weeks of active duty training with regular Army units. Nine years later, the Wisconsin National Guard's 32nd Infantry Brigade was deploying to Germany with all its equipment for the major NATO exercise REFORGER.

By the end of the 1980s, Army National Guard units were supplied with the latest weaponry and equipment - and would soon get a chance to use it. In response to Iraq's invasion of oil-rich Kuwait in August 1990, Operation Desert Storm brought the largest mobilization of the National Guard since the Korean War.

More than 60,000 Army Guard personnel were called to active duty for the Gulf War. As the air campaign against Iraq began Operation Desert Storm in January 1991, thousands of Army National Guard men and women, most of them from combat service and combat service support units, were in Southwest Asia, preparing for the ground campaign against the Iraqi forces. Two thirds of those mobilized would eventually see service in the war's main theater of operations.

Occurring soon after the Guard's return from the Arabian Peninsula, hurricanes in Florida and Hawaii and a riot in Los Angeles drew attention to the National Guard's role in its communities. That role has increased as the Guard, active for years in drug interdiction and eradication efforts, institutes new and innovative community outreach programs.

Since the end of Desert Storm, the National Guard has seen the nature of its Federal mission change, with more frequent call ups in response to crises in Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, and the skies over Iraq. Most recently, following the attacks of September 11, 2001, more than 50,000 Guardmembers were called up by both their States and the Federal government to provide security at home and combat terrorism abroad. In the largest and swiftest response to a domestic disaster in history, the Guard deployed more than 50,000 troops in support of the Gulf States following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Today, tens of thousands of Guardmembers are serving in harm's way in Iraq and Afghanistan, as the National Guard continues its historic dual mission, providing to the states units trained and equipped to protect life and property, while providing to the nation units trained, equipped and ready to defend the United States and its interests, all over the globe.

Information Courtesy of the Army National Guard

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