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Sometimes it can feel pretty darn easy to forget about the National Guard – especially when the branch doesn't get any traction for high visibility news coverage. But the truth is that the National Guard actually has a long and distinguished history, and has been a cornerstone to the support of other branches of the military.

Here's a list of 7 lesser known facts about the National Guard.


1. Earliest beginnings 

Did you know that the National Guard is older than the United States? It's true. In 1636, the first militia units were organized in the Massachusetts Bay Colony under three permanent regiments, and each of these militia units trace their lineage back to 17th century armed forces. However, colonists were fearful of a militia and vehemently opposed a standing army.

Over 100 years later, the 1792 Militia Act gave the president powers to call forth the militia whenever the United States might be invaded or be in face of imminent danger of invasion.

2. Evolution of the Guard

Free, able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 45 were conscripted into local militia during the 19th century in the United States. The militia units were divided much like the current modern military into divisions, brigades, battalions and companies.

3. What’s in a name?

The use of the term "National Guard" occurred after the end of the Civil War. In 1878, the National Guard Association of the United States was formed to lobby for the formation of the National Guard in states and territories. The term was popularized by Marquis de Lafayette, but didn't become an official term until 1916.

During the Revolutionary War, National Guard service members were called "Minutemen" for their rapid response abilities, making them the original Rapid Deployment Force.

4. Official recognition 

During the Progressive Era (1890-1920), reforms to government and private industry saw a shift in the perception of the National Guard. Of the most pressing reforms was the Militia Act of 1903 which established training and organizational standards across all Guard units in the country.

The amendment of the National Defense Act in 1933 officially created the National Guard of the United States and formally established it as a separate reserve component of the Army. This revision allowed for the creation of training standards and clearly defined the role of National Guard units when they're called into service.

5. Swearing in ceremonies are unusual

Each member of the National Guard has to swear to uphold both the federal constitution and their state constitution. This oath hearkens back to the origins of the National Guard as a state militia.

6. Presidents serve, too

Two presidents have served in the National Guard in its current iteration – Harry S. Truman and George W. Bush.

7. A National Guard for every state

Guard units are everywhere except in American Samoa, which is the only U.S. territory not to have a unit.

To join the National Guard, a person has to be between the ages of 17 and 35, be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and have at least a high school diploma or GED. Enlistment is eight years, minimum. However, a person can elect to serve three or six years and spend the remainder of the time in Individual Ready Reserve (IRR). IRR soldiers don't train with a unit but can be called up in the event of an emergency.