December 13th marked the 381st birthday of our United States National Guard. Since 1636, they have been the reserve force of our nation’s military. Originally, the militia forces of the United States started off in what is now present-day Salem Massachusetts in September 1565. From there the militia continued to be a staple of American life once English Settlers made the journey to the New World. From then on to the early 1900s, there was only a small Army and state militias. It wasn’t until the passage of the Dick Act in 1903 that the first reserve force was created.

According to the Dick Act, states were required to have their militias split into two sections: one being the “National Guard” as the organized militia and the “Reserve Militia” for the others. World War II brought about the National Defense Act of 1916, which required the term “National Guard” to be used for state militias.

Spc. Jason Curtis, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 151st Infantry Regiment, pulls security while leaders of a medical civil action project searched for a suitable site in Parun, Afghanistan June 28.

Currently, the National Guard serves as the first line of defense here in America, with each of the 50 states, three territories, and the District of Columbia each having their own state National Guard. Those who are members of the National Guard are required to adhere to the same standards as their counterparts in Active Duty and the respective branches’ Reserves. Reservists and Guardsmen can have careers concurrent with their military service and serve on a part-time basis. Only the Air Force and Army can have National Guard components and  Reservists are part of all branches of the military.

While most news about the National Guard comes out when there is a natural disaster or other crisis, it is no less important than the other parts of our nation’s military. They train alongside our active-duty military and serve our country alongside them. Some facts you may not know about the National Guard include:

  • American Samoa is the only US territory to not have a National Guard unit.
  • During the American Revolution, National Guard units were called Minutemen due to being able to respond quickly.
  • The National Guard has the second highest membership of all the branches, with the US Army having the most members, including enlisted, officers, and the Reserves.
  • The 54th Massachusetts Volunteers was formed by the National Guard and is credited as one of the first all African-American units in US military history. The unit is still active today and William Harvey Carney was the part of the unit and the first African-American to receive a Medal of Honor.

Some prominent Americans served our country in the National Guard. They include:

  • Presidents Harry S. Truman and George W. Bush. They were part of the National Guard in its current structure.
  • Actor Tom Selleck. He joined the California National Guard in 1967 after receiving Vietnam draft orders. He served in the 160th infantry regiment until 1973.
  • John Amos. Before being on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Good Times,” Amos was a part of the 50th Armored division in the New Jersey National Guard, as well as an honorary Master Chief of the US Coast Guard.

While the National Guard may not be as prominent as the major branches of the military, they are an integral part of keeping our country safe. The men and women of the National Guard drop whatever they are doing when duty calls and we salute them for their service to our great nation. Here at the Purple Heart Foundation, we are committed to honoring all of our heroes. It is our goal to make the transition from the battlefield to the home front a smooth one for all of our men and women in uniform who defend our freedom. Show your support by making a one-time or monthly pledge to make sure they continue to receive the support and benefits they deserve.