The AP recently reported a reduction in National Guard recruiting. Ostensibly, the Pentagon doesn’t need such a large reserve component, and the Guard is oversized. Other theories include “suspicions inside the Guard and out that the reductions are part of an effort to shift the burden of fighting overseas onto the active-duty Army and ease the public outcry over the way that Guard units…have been sent on long, repeated combat tours in Iraq.”
Such outcries are usually standard fare in the demagogic ramblings of politicians who mask an anti-military worldview with feigned concern for service-members and their families. But if the public at large has reservations about the Guard’s role in the overall national military strategy, it is misplaced. America has long relied on its citizen soldiers. It should do so even more.
The Guard legacy goes back to 1636, when the Massachusetts Bay Colony formally organized its militia companies. Thus the National Guard, a direct descendant of the Massachusetts militia, is older than the United States itself.
The importance of our militia is enshrined in the Constitution. Article I, Section 8 assumes the existence of state militias and authorizes the Congress to call on them “to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions.”
Guardsmen and their militiamen forebears have served the people and their representatives with distinction since the Revolution. In all our major wars, victorious American Soldiers usually went home to families, farms, businesses, and careers, leaving the bloody mess of battle and its aftermath to the politicians.
Our founders entrusted the security of our Republic to its citizens acting as part time Soldiers. Although the Continental Army, commanded by George Washington, was instrumental in guaranteeing American independence, a successful break from the British Crown would have been unthinkable without the militia, both militarily and politically.
Politically because colonists took up arms to defend their rights against tyranny, and proved in action that such a defense was their natural and rational right. Mobilizing the citizenry for a common cause helped solidify public opinion in favor of the politics of independence.
Militias made political sense, but they also understood that it was imperative to the cause of liberty. To ask men to make the sacrifices that war demands in defense of their freedom makes for the most politically-active and engaged citizenry. An armed citizenry willing to fight for freedom also keeps the government honest, and its actions close to the will of the people.
The Bill of Rights famously refers to a “well regulated Militia,” as a necessary condition “to the security of a free State.” The Continental Army was all but disbanded after the Revolution, but the militias remained in place.
Today there are many practical reasons for the American people to put its faith in citizen Soldiers. For one, Guardsmen and women have valuable skills that military academies and training camps can’t teach. Our Guard force is filled with accountants, firefighters, plumbers, truckers, police officers, teachers, nurses, and more. They represent our nation more genuinely than a full-time active force ever could. The men and women in the Guard are more grounded in the communities they represent, and thus are ambassadors to the world. The Soldiers of the United States National Guard are the best our nation has to offer.
Maintaining a force of citizen warriors costs much less, too. They train regularly without requiring the burdensome costs of permanent garrison, salary, and family benefits.
With the recruitment reductions, they are becoming even more elite. Minimum test scores are up, bonuses down, and age and physical requirements more stringent. Still, folks are lining up, eager to serve.
Our active army plays an important role in our national defense, but one that ought to be minimized if we truly want to advance the cause of liberty at home and abroad.
Technology can fill the gaps left by a reduction in active forces. Advanced logistics and a strengthened national will to fight important wars—fueled by the understanding that America’s citizens will be willing to fight only the most important wars—will enable fast mobilization of reserve and Guard components.
The last thing America needs is a bloated, full-time, professional army. The founders were mistrustful of that, and we should be, too. Our founding fathers have been proven prescient on so many counts since. Too often we have ignored their example and warnings to our peril.
(Photo by SGT Teddy Wade)