Constitution Daily

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An important landmark anniversary for the National Guard

June 3, 2019 by NCC Staff


It was on this day over 103 years ago that the National Guard officially got its name after Congress passed an important, if not overlooked, act to strengthen our military.


State militias have been around in some form since the early 1600s and they represent the oldest-known segment of today’s defense infrastructure.

But on June 3, 1916, the National Defense Act made the use of the term “National Guard” mandatory for state militias, and the act expanded the President’s authority to mobilize the Guard during war or national emergencies here, for service or in different parts of the world, for the duration of the event that caused the mobilization.

The Act was intended to guarantee the State militias’ status as the nation’s primary reserve force. (In 1933, the “National Guard of the United States”—a military reserve force composed of state National Guard members—was created and officially became a component of the Army.)

The Act also doubled the number of yearly drills and tripled the number of training days; established the Reserve Officer Training Corps; and paid for 375 new airplanes, creating the Army's first Air Division.

President Woodrow Wilson championed the move as part of a preparedness effort related to World War I, which the United States government had avoided in 1916, but was watching closely.

The expanded Guard’s first role in 1916 was to help in efforts at the border with Mexico, as Army forces were battling Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. During World War I, the National Guard accounted for 40 percent of the troop strength in the American Expeditionary Force.

The role of state militias was frequently mentioned in the Constitution. Article 1, Section 8 defined the duties of Congress and the states in forming militias and using them within the United States.

And the Second Amendment made it clear that the federal government had no ability to disarm state militias, famously stating that, “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Most of the troops in the Continental Army were recruited from militias, and local militias were used to fight with the regular army. Since then, the militias or National Guard contributed to every military campaign here and abroad.

Today, the National Guard has numerous roles domestically and internationally. The National Guard responds to various domestic situations, such as fighting fires and helping communities deal with natural disasters since at a state level, the governors have the ability to call up Guard members. The President also has the right to mobilize the Guard, putting members on federal duty status.


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