Guard Turns 386 Years Old, But Still Has Growing Pains


Tuesday marks the 386th birthday for the National Guard as the service component comes off a series of non-stop domestic missions and back-to-back deployments during the Global War on Terrorism.

The Guard has served as America’s 911 emergency response for issues at home and abroad for centuries, from defending Baltimore against British invasion; storming the beaches of Normandy, France; serving as key combat forces in Afghanistan; and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We can’t say thank you enough to the Citizen Soldiers and Airmen of all 54 states, territories and the District of Columbia who, for nearly four centuries, have served in all of our nation’s major conflicts and supported our friends, neighbors and families during times of crisis here at home,” Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said in a press release. “Some 42,500 are on duty today, more than half of those at posts outside the United States.”

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Outside of combat missions abroad, the Guard has been increasingly relied on by governors for responding to protests and missions outside the service component’s traditional Rolodex, including filling in as substitute teachers in public schools. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has kept his troops on the border in a mission plagued with issues including multiple deaths by suicide and delayed pay, which spurred a first-of-its-kind unionization.

That increased pressure to rapidly respond to domestic missions is relatively new for the National Guard, which traditionally was rarely deployed by governors outside of occasional extreme weather events, though climate change is expected to make weather-related missions more needed and frequent.

The Guard’s increased footprint in recent years has led to efforts to expand benefits. Hokanson told in October that one of his top priorities before he retires is securing free health care for Guardsmen, though it’s unclear what kind of momentum that effort will have in the new Congress.

Meanwhile, veterans groups are looking to expand GI Bill eligibility for part-time troops who have fewer opportunities to earn a federal college scholarship with rarer overseas deployment opportunities.

The Army National Guard is facing a troubling crisis with soldiers fleeing the ranks, missing its retention goal in 2022 by about 14%, or roughly 4,800 soldiers. Meanwhile, the active-duty Army has faced less difficulty retaining troops. The retention problem is further compounded by a recruiting issue service leaders have yet to figure out. The Guard fell short of its target for bringing in new troops by about 14,500 last year.

Several states are effectively in the midst of recovering from frequent domestic missions in recent years, including the response to the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol assault. Deployments abroad have cooled off compared to the peak during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yet while some units are using this time to catch up on administrative work and training, some formations are still actively engaged overseas. The Ohio National Guard’s 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team is in the middle of 1,800-soldier deployment to Operation Inherent Resolve, supporting efforts in Iraq and Syria. The Wisconsin Guard’s 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade also recently deployed to Africa.

— Steve Beynon can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.

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