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'Where Soldiers Come From' in Context

The U.S. National Guard

The National Guard is the oldest branch of the U.S. Armed Forces and remains the only branch of the military whose existence is actually required by the Constitution. Close to 12,000 citizens of Michigan are now members of the Michigan National Guard.



Legend has it that citizens of Michigan were some of the first to answer President Abraham Lincoln's call to defend the Union at the start of the Civil War. When Michigan's soldiers showed up in Washington, D.C., Lincoln is said to have exclaimed, "Thank God for Michigan."

Close to 12,000 citizens of Michigan are now members of the Michigan National Guard, which contains an Army National Guard and Air National Guard component. Michigan has the 15th highest number of National Guard members in the country, with Texas and California having the highest Guard membership with more than 20,000 each.

The National Guard is the oldest branch of the U.S. Armed Forces and remains the only branch of the military whose existence is actually required by the Constitution. The dual federal/state status of the Guard (every member of the National Guard belongs to two organizations — the National Guard of the United States and the National Guard of his or her particular state) has been an important part of its structure and operations since its beginning and is the most fundamental difference between the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve. These two bodies comprise the reserve components of the U.S. Army, as opposed to active duty soldiers. About 55 percent of U.S. military manpower is made up of active duty soldiers, with the remaining 45 percent comprising the reserve forces (Army National Guard and Army Reserve), often collectively called "weekend warriors." There are Army Reserve forces for each of the active military services — the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard.

Recruited and trained locally, National Guard troops primarily serve communities at home or nearby in times of natural disaster or civil unrest. In the largest domestic deployment in National Guard history, 50,000 troops were deployed to the Gulf States following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. At the same time, the president has the power to "federalize" National Guard units, making them available for international missions. In such circumstances, guard members, who usually train for one weekend a month and two full weeks a year, can be called to duty for two-year deployments. If Congress declares a national emergency and a "full mobilization" happens, guard members can be required to serve for the length of the emergency plus six additional months.

The National Guard has played a role in every major U.S. military operation abroad, including the Mexican War, World War I and World War II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars and the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even a decade ago, however, overseas deployment was not as common as it is now for National Guard members. Fewer than 100 Michigan National Guard troops were deployed in 2001. That number increased to more than 1,000 by 2003. In 2011, roughly 2,000 Michigan-based Guard members were deployed. In all, more than 200,000 Guard troops have been mobilized for active duty overseas since September 11, 2001; at times they have made up half of all combat brigades in Iraq.

The wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan are also the first large-scale conflicts since the Revolutionary War that have been fought by an entirely volunteer force. Of over 300 million people in the United States, approximately 2.4 million (less than 1 percent) serve in the military.

Photo caption: Cole greets crowd.  Credit: Heather Courtney
Sources:
» Martin, Tim. "Michigan National Guard Deployments Rise in 2011." Detroit Free Press, October 22, 2011.
» Melnyk, Les A. "National Guard: Why So Special?" Soldiers Magazine, August 2, 2006.
» Michigan Department of Natural Resources. "Civil War Military Recruiting."
» National Guard
» Umansky, Eric. "Army Reserve vs. National Guard: What's the Difference, Anyway?" Slate, January 7, 2005.



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