Generations of militia account for today's Guard

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith
  • I.G. Brown Training and Education Center
What is a few years younger than the Mayflower Compact (1620); a lot older than the Declaration of Independence (1776) and U.S. Constitution (1787); predates the U.S. Army, Navy and Marine Corps by 139 years; and is 311 years older than the Air Force?

Answer: The National Guard.

Known originally as the Militia, the National Guard turns 379 years young Sunday, Dec. 13.

It all started in 1636 when the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which functioned as the colony's legislature, ordered existing militia companies from the towns surrounding Boston to form into three regiments: North, South and East.

While other English colonies like Virginia and Spanish colonies like Florida and Puerto Rico had individual towns with militia companies before 1636, Massachusetts was the first place in the New World where the population was large enough to justify organizing companies into regiments for command and control.

These regiments became a kind of military "family" for members.

Although their names have been changed and individual companies have come and gone, the three regiments still exist in the Massachusetts National Guard.

In retrospect, a string of 20-year career enlistments divides the Guard's life span into 19 "generations." The differences between generation one and 19 are countless. Yet, even as the National Guard has transformed many times, it remains in line with its first role as the citizens' Army; and, for the last three and a half generations, the citizens' Air Force.

The American colonies adopted the English militia system, which obligated all males to possess arms and participate in the defense of the community. Now, a force of more than 455,000 men and women serve voluntarily and can be deployed anywhere in the world.

The continued existence of the colonial militia was ratified by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution. Since then, Congress has enacted several militia and defense acts to strengthen the Guard. The first of these laws, passed in 1792, governed the militia for the first 111 years of the country's existence.

The Militia Act of 1903 created the modern National Guard and affirmed it as the nation's primary organized reserve force. The National Defense Act of 1947 established the Air National Guard under the National Guard Bureau.

In 379 years, the equivalent of nineteen 20-year careers, the weapons and technology have changed drastically, but the Guard's contribution to the nation's defense has remained paramount.

Generation seven rallied to battle the British at Lexington and Concord. Generation 12 faced off, brother against brother, in the Civil War. Generation 14 "Remembered the Maine" during the Spanish-American War. Generation 16 was already on duty when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Generation 19 will never forget 9/11, and it is still responding to terrorist threats at home and abroad.

In 1636, the militia's primary firearm was the crude matchlock musket, which could take 56 steps to load and fire. Nearly one-third of militia Soldiers carried only a long pole, or pike, into combat. Today, the Guard members fight cyber warfare and, most recently, women can now serve in all combat roles.

Our colonial forefathers could not have imagined much of what their descendants can use in combat today - jet fighters, tanks, satellite radios, laser-guided munitions, global positioning systems, rocket artillery, and countless other high-tech devices.

Now, after 379 years, what does the future hold for this always ready and reliable force?

Coming generations will continue to use all of the modern technology at its disposal. At their core, however, today's Guard members and yesterday's Minutemen remain the same person: citizens with the conviction that their military service is required to make their communities and country a safer and better place.

EDITOR's NOTE: This piece, "Generations of militia account for the National Guard," written by Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith, published originally in 2006 and was revised here for the 379th National Guard birthday.