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State defense forces (SDF) (also known as state guards, state military reserves, or state militias) in the United States are military units that operate under the sole authority of a state government; they are partially regulated by the National Guard Bureau but they are not a part of the Army National Guard of the United States. State defense forces are authorized by state and federal law and are under the command of the governor of each state.
State defense forces are distinct from their state's National Guard in that they cannot become federal entities. All state National Guard personnel (to include the National Guard of the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the territories of Guam and the Virgin Islands) can be federalized under the National Defense Act of 1933 with the creation of the National Guard of the United States. This provides the basis for integrating units and personnel of the Army National Guard into the U.S. Army and, since 1947, units and personnel of the Air National Guard into the U.S. Air Force
The federal government recognizes state defense forces under 32 U.S.C. § 109 which provides that state defense forces as a whole may not be called, ordered, or drafted into the armed forces of the United States, thus preserving their separation from the National Guard. However, under the same law, individual members serving in the state defense force are not exempt from service in the armed forces (i.e., they are not excluded from the draft). Under 32 USC § 109(e), "A person may not become a member of a defense force . . . if he is a member of a reserve component of the armed forces."
Nearly every state has laws authorizing state defense forces, and 22 states, plus the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, have active SDFs with different levels of activity, support, and strength. State defense forces generally operate with emergency management and homeland security missions. Most SDFs are organized as army units, but air and naval units also exist.
From its founding until the early 1900s, the United States maintained only a minimal army and relied on state militias to supply the majority of its troops, with the training and readiness of the latter varying widely. As a result of the Spanish-American War and the performance of the militias and other volunteer units during that conflict, Congress was called upon to reform and regulate the training and qualification of state militias. In 1903, with passage of the Dick Act, the predecessor to the modern-day National Guard was formed. It required the states to divide their militias into two sections. The law recommended the title "National Guard" for the first section, known as the organized militia, and "Reserve Militia" for all others.
During World War I, Congress authorized the states to maintain Home Guards, which were reserve forces outside the National Guard forces that were then being deployed by the Federal Government as part of the National Army. The Secretary of War was authorized to furnish these Home Guard units with rifles, ammunition, and supplies.
In 1933, Congress finalized the split between the National Guard and the traditional state militias by mandating that all federally funded soldiers take a dual enlistment/commission and thus enter both the state National Guard and the newly created National Guard of the United States, a federal reserve force. In 1940, with the onset of World War II and as a result of its federalizing the National Guard, Congress amended the National Defense Act of 1916, and authorized the states to maintain "military forces other than National Guard." This law authorized the War Department to train and arm the new military forces that would come to be known as State Guards. Many states took advantage of this law and maintained distinct state military forces throughout the war to defend their own territories, shorelines, and airspaces. In 1947, with the establishment of an independent U.S. Air Force, Congress directed yet another reorganization of the National Guard into a separate Army National Guard and a separate Air National Guard. The former would continue to be composed of traditional Army ground units and those aviation assets (certain helicopters and observation/liaison aircraft) unique to Army Aviation, while the latter would consist of those National Guard units that had heretofore been part of the former U.S. Army Air Forces and would now be operationally-gained by the newly established Air Force.
In 1950, with the outbreak of the Korean War and at the urging of the National Guard, Congress reauthorized the separate state military forces for a time period of two years. These state military forces were authorized military training at federal expense, as well as "arms, ammunition, clothing, and equipment," as deemed necessary by the Secretary of the Army. At the end of the two years, however, they were not reauthorized under federal law.
In 1956, Congress finally revised the law and authorized "State defense forces" permanently under Title 32, Section 109, of the United States Code. Two years later, Congress amended the law and changed the name from "State defense forces" to "defense forces." Still, it was not until the early Ronald Reagan administration that many states developed their defense forces into elements that existed beyond paper, when the U.S. Department of Defense actively encouraged states to create and maintain SDF units.
By the late 1980s, however, a series of high-profile reports caused several states to shut down or significantly restructure their forces. In 1987, Utah disbanded their force, the Utah State Guard, after a probe revealed all but 31 of its personnel were "neo-Nazis, felons, and mental patients." Meanwhile, in 1990, the Virginia General Assembly launched an investigation and subsequent overhaul of its state's force after receiving tips that the volunteers were "saving money to buy a tank."
With the end of the Cold War came a general decrease of interest in state defense forces. The attacks of September 11, 2001, however, generated additional attention and, with it, greater scrutiny from some in the United States military who questioned the training and equipment of the units and whether they provided an outlet for "warrior wannabes" who would not otherwise qualify for service in the armed forces. In 2008, Alaska disarmed its state defense force after an investigation concluded the lack of training intensity or standardization was a potential legal liability to the state. By 2010 the status of the force had been downgraded even further, with the Adjutant-General of the Alaska National Guard informing volunteers that they would only be called upon as a "reserve of last resort to be used only in the most extreme emergencies.”
Further controversy was stoked by a New York Times report which found many senior officers in the New York Guard had little or no formal military training despite holding, in some cases, general officer ranks. The former commander of the force, Pierre David Lax, noted that, "if you are friendly with the governor and you always wanted to be a general, you ask the governor to make you a general, and poof, you are a brigadier general." Another former commander asserted he regularly awarded titles to members of the New York legislature in exchange for their support of budgetary allocations to the force. The report also noted that a majority of the unit's rare deployments involved providing ceremonial support, such as bands and color guards, to the state government.
A 2003 article in the United States Army War College's Parameters journal recommended that, "...United States Northern Command (NORTHCOM) should ensure that future contingency planning efforts for homeland security operations fully incorporate the valuable capabilities that State Defense Forces can provide."  In the decade following that article, however, no significant action has been taken on the recommendation.
Several bills have been unsuccessfully introduced in Congress since the early 1990s seeking to improve the readiness of state defense forces. The most recent, H.R. 206, introduced in 2009 by Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina, would have allowed the U.S. Secretary of Defense to transfer surplus U.S. military equipment to state defense forces. Co-sponsors of the bill included Jim Marshall and Frank Wolf. Congress took no action on the measure before adjourning.
Some state defense forces have minimal enlistment requirements, permitting virtually any citizen under a prescribed age (usually 66) to join, even if they have no previous military experience, or don't meet conventional military physical standards (California, for instance, requires no physical fitness test prior to entry and has weight/height standards significantly more relaxed than the U.S. military). Others, such as Tennessee, normally require personnel to have been honorably discharged from the U.S. military, or have a professional background in a critical skill such as engineering or medicine.
Many state defense forces allow enlistment "at will" and personnel are under no termed service obligation, as with most conventional military forces, meaning they can simply quit at any time without facing charges of desertion or Absence Without Leave.
Training standards vary widely, but usually require only 15 days of annual drill, compared to the absolute minimum of 38 days (if not more) required of most federal military reserve forces. Unlike the U.S. military, there is generally only a limited period of basic training, often as few as four days for persons with no prior military experience, significantly less than the ten weeks of basic training required, for instance, by the United States Army.
The Military Emergency Management Specialist (MEMS) qualification created by the State Guard Association of the United States has become a common training focal point among state defense forces. Alabama, California, Indiana, Texas, Ohio and others have adopted the MEMS Badge as a basic qualification required of all members desiring promotion. Training is conducted both online, and through MEMS academies in each state, and includes course material provided by FEMA and other agencies, as well as practical experience in local disaster planning and exercise management.
Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) are being organized by several SDFs by utilizing training offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Citizen Corps. Some states follow the lead of the Army and offer a permanent tab (worn in a similar manner as the Army's Ranger and Sapper tabs) as an incentive to become certified as part of the local or unit CERT team.
Weapons qualification and training is provided in some SDFs. However, most SDFs do not require weapons proficiency. A 2006 report by the U.S. Freedom Foundation, an organization affiliated with the State Guard Association of the United States, recommended minimum standards for state defense forces, including weapons training, but the report has been largely ignored. Some SDFs have laws that in the event of deployment by order of the state legislature and/or governor, they will become armed.
Many states organize their state defense force parallel to their National Guard (both Air and Army), having them report to the governor through the state's adjutant general. State defense forces are not funded by the federal government, and in most states members are unpaid. Volunteers have to purchase their own uniforms and most, if not all, of their own equipment.
Because many members of state defense forces are veterans who have retained ranks received from service in the armed forces, some state defense forces have an inflated grade structure. Advocates reply that the grades worn by state defense force members accurately reflect the many years of experience that veterans (often military or naval retirees) bring to the state forces. Some SDF soldiers use the two-letter state abbreviation in parenthesis after their rank to indicate the origin of their grade. For example, a major in the California State Military Reserve would give his or her rank as "MAJ (CA)." However, numerous states do not practice this notation because many senior commissioned and noncommissioned officers earned their rank while serving at the federal level. Moreover, Army regulations require the service branch title to appear after the rank and name (e.g., COL John S. Smith, CSMR).
While in the past, many state defense forces were organized as military police brigades or infantry brigades, the experiences of recent events such as Hurricane Katrina has changed attitudes and plans. Civil affairs units and medical units now predominate in some states. Organization levels may be inflated: a battalion may have less than 100 members, and a state defense force brigade may have less than 300 soldiers.
As a general rule, state defense forces wear standard U.S. military uniforms with insignia closely matching those of their federal counterparts. SDF units generally wear red name tags on service uniforms (as specifically prescribed by AR 670-1 for SDF units when adopting the Army Service Uniform or Battle Dress Uniform (BDU), and name tapes on Army Combat Uniform (ACU) or BDU uniforms use the state defense force name or state name rather than "U.S. Army." Standard U.S. Army branch insignia are often used or a unique "state guard" branch insignia consisting of a crossed musket and sword is alternatively used.
Where berets are worn, some state defense forces use a beret flash similar to the one the U.S. Army uses, but in bright red thread instead of the Army's blue. Other states have beret flashes based on the state flag. State soldiers in the New York Guard formerly wore a grey beret flash. (Wear of the beret by New York Guard soldiers has been discontinued, replaced by a black patrol cap.) Uniforms vary from state to state and tend to have only subtle differences. For example, the Texas State Guard wears standard U.S. Army camouflage uniforms (but do not wear a beret unless in dress uniform), a state guard unit patch, and the "U.S. Army" name tape replaced with one reading "Texas State Guard." Similarly, the California State Military Reserve wears a uniform identical to their National Guard counterparts except for the unit patch, beret flash, and the "California" name tape. Outer garments such as a Gore-Tex jacket have a subdued "CA" beneath the rank insignia. A similar pattern can be found in the New York Guard. The Georgia State Defense Force often works in tandem with and support of federal troops. The Georgia State Defense Force wears the ACU with a unique Georgia SDF red flash on the U.S. Army's black beret and "Georgia" in place of the "U.S. Army" uniform name tape. The Tennessee State Guard and Alabama State Defense Force can wear either BDU's or the "tactical response uniform" (TRU) in the Woodland pattern but whose cut and accoutrements match the ACU but cannot mix pieces. The Alabama State Defense Force has also recently introduced a new "Standard Service Uniform" composed of a blue "tactical" shirt, and khaki "tactical" pants.
The few states with both SDF air and naval units wear modified USAF and USN/USMC uniforms. Currently, only Ohio and New York have uniformed naval militia. Only California, Texas, Vermont, and Puerto Rico have an air wing, though Indiana formerly had an Air Guard Reserve.
In all cases, the state adjutant general has final say on uniforms worn by state defense forces, though federal service regulations generally shape the policies of each state.
|Force||Branch Tape Reads||Branch & Name Tape colors||Insignia||Head Covering||Uniform Type|
|Alabama State Defense Force||ALABAMA||White on red||Subdued||Patrol cap with unsubdued insignia|
None, optional baseball cap
|BDU & TRU|
Navy blue tactical shirt, khaki tactical pants
|Alaska State Defense Force||ALASKA||Black on ACU||Black on ACU||ACU patrol cap||ACU|
|Arizona Defense Force||ARIZONA||Black on ACU||Black on ACU||ACU Patrol Cap||ACU|
|California State Military Reserve||CALIFORNIA||Black on ACU|
Blue on ABU
|Black on ACU||ACU patrol cap|
ABU patrol cap
|Georgia State Defense Force||GEORGIA||Black on ACU||Black on ACU||ACU patrol cap|
Black beret with red flash for special occasions
|Indiana Guard Reserve||INDIANA||Black on ACU||Black on ACU||Black patrol cap||ACU|
|Maryland Defense Force||MARYLAND||Black on ACU||Black on ACU||ACU patrol cap with "Maryland" on back||ACU|
|Massachusetts State Defense Force||Massachusetts||Black on ACU||Black on ACU||ACU patrol cap||ACU|
|Michigan Volunteer Defense Force||MICHIGAN||Black on ACU||Black on ACU||ACU patrol cap||ACU|
|Mississippi State Guard||MISSISSIPPI||Black on ACU||Black on ACU||Patrol cap & subdued insignia|
Black beret w/red flash
|New York Guard||N.Y. GUARD||Black on grey (ACU)|
Black on olive drab (BDU)
|Black on grey (ACU)|
Black on olive drab (BDU)
|Black patrol cap w/bright rank insignia|
Black beret w/ gray flash (Dress Blues Only)
(BDU authorized until 30 September 2013)
|Ohio Military Reserve||OHIO||Black on olive drab||Black on olive drab||Patrol cap||BDU/TRU|
|Ohio Naval Militia||OHIO||Gold/silver on navy blue||Gold/silver on navy blue (E-4 & up)||Naval style 8-point cover|
|Oregon State Defense Force||OREGON||Black on ACU||Black on ACU||ACU patrol cap with subdued insignia||ACU|
|Puerto Rico State Guard||PRSG ARMY|
PRSG AIR FORCE
|Black on ACU||Black on ACU||Black beret with yellow & red flash reminiscent of Spanish heraldry||ACU|
|South Carolina State Guard||S.C. STATE GUARD||Black on ACU||Black on ACU||ACU Patrol Cap||ACU|
|Tennessee State Guard||TN ST GUARD||Black on olive drab||Black on olive drab||Black beret with red flash||TRU|
|Texas State Guard||TEXAS STATE GUARD||Black on olive drab/ACU (Army)||Black on olive drab/ACU||Patrol cap||ACU|
|Texas State Guard Maritime Regiment||TEXAS STATE GUARD||Black on MARPAT||Black on MARPAT||Eight-point naval cover||DDCUU|
|Vermont State Guard||VT STATE GUARD||Black on olive drab||Black on olive drab||patrol cap||BDU|
|Virginia Defense Force||VA. DEF. FORCE||Black on olive drab||Gold on olive drab||patrol cap||BDU|
|Washington State Guard||WASHINGTON||Black on ACU||Black on ACU||patrol cap or beret with green flash||ACU|
SDFs include a variety of special units including medical, aviation, and ceremonial units. The following are examples:
The U.S. Constitution, coupled with several statutes and cases, details the relationship of state defense forces to the federal government. Outside of 32 USC 109, the U.S. Supreme Court noted: "It is true that the state defense forces 'may not be called, ordered, or drafted into the armed forces.' 32 U.S.C. 109(c). It is nonetheless possible that they are subject to call under 10 U.S.C. 331–333, which distinguish the 'militia' from the 'armed forces,' and which appear to subject all portions of the 'militia' – organized or not – to call if needed for the purposes specified in the Militia Clauses" (Perpich v. Department of Defense, 496 U.S. 334 (1990)). The Court, however, explicitly noted that it was not deciding this issue. The following is an extract of the laws which the Court cited as possibly giving the federal government authority to activate the state defense forces:
10 USC 331 – “Federal aid for State governments”
Whenever there is an insurrection in any State against its government, the President may, upon the request of its legislature or of its governor if the legislature cannot be convened, call into Federal service such of the militia of the other States, in the number requested by that State, and use such of the armed forces, as he considers necessary to suppress the insurrection.
10 USC 332 – “Use of militia and armed forces to enforce Federal authority”
Whenever the President considers that unlawful obstructions, combinations, or assemblages, or rebellion against the authority of the United States, make it impracticable to enforce the laws of the United States in any State or Territory by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, he may call into Federal service such of the militia of any State, and use such of the armed forces, as he considers necessary to enforce those laws or to suppress the rebellion.
10 USC 333 – “Interference with State and Federal law”
The President, by using the militia or the armed forces, or both, or by any other means, shall take such measures as he considers necessary to suppress, in a State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy, if it -
(1) so hinders the execution of the laws of that State, and of the United States within the State, that any part or class of its people is deprived of a right, privilege, immunity, or protection named in the Constitution and secured by law, and the constituted authorities of that State are unable, fail, or refuse to protect that right, privilege, or immunity, or to give that protection; or
(2) opposes or obstructs the execution of the laws of the United States or impedes the course of justice under those laws.
In any situation covered by clause (1), the State shall be considered to have denied the equal protection of the laws secured by the Constitution.
There are currently 21 active state defense forces. A 2005 Department of Defense report reported twenty-three active SDFs in the United States and Puerto Rico. Since this time, New Jersey has suspended its State Defense Force. Per National Guard Regulation 10-4: "Any State, Territory, or District of Columbia, that creates a SDF under 32 USC §109 is solely responsible for the establishment, organization, training, equipping, funding, management and employment of that SDF in accordance with (IAW) its laws"
The following is a list of active SDFs in the United States and Puerto Rico:
|State or Territory||Status||Military Division||Naval Division||Air Wing||State Law||Weapons Training|
|Alabama||Inactive||Alabama State Defense Force||||not currently|
|Alaska||Active||Alaska State Defense Force||Alaska Naval Militia||||yes|
|Arizona||Active||Arizona Defense Force|||
|California||Active||California State Military Reserve||California Naval Militia||||yes|
|Connecticut||Active||Connecticut State Militia Units||Connecticut Naval Militia||yes|
|District of Columbia||Not Established|
|Georgia||Active||Georgia State Defense Force||||yes|
|Indiana||Active||Indiana Guard Reserve||||yes|
|Illinois||Dissolved||Illinois Naval Militia||?|
|Louisiana||Inactive||Louisiana State Guard||||?|
|Maryland||Active||Maryland Defense Force||||not currently|
|Massachusetts||Active||Massachusetts State Defense Force||not currently|
|Michigan||Active||Michigan Volunteer Defense Force||?|
|Mississippi||Active||Mississippi State Guard||?|
|Missouri||Active||Missouri Reserve Military Force|||
|Nevada||Inactive||Nevada National Guard Reserve||?|
|New Hampshire||Not Established|
|New Jersey||Dissolved||New Jersey Naval Militia||?|
|New Mexico||Active||New Mexico State Guard||?|
|New York||Active||New York Guard||New York Naval Militia||not currently|
|North Carolina||Not Established|||
|North Dakota||Not Established|
|Ohio||Active||Ohio Military Reserve||Ohio Naval Militia||?|
|Oklahoma||Inactive||Oklahoma State Guard||?|
|Oregon||Active||Oregon State Defense Force||||?|
|Pennsylvania||Not Established||Pennsylvania Guard|||
|Puerto Rico||Active||Puerto Rico State Guard||yes||yes|
|Rhode Island||Not Established|
|South Carolina||Active||South Carolina State Guard||yes|
|South Dakota||Not Established|||
|Tennessee||Active||Tennessee State Guard||?|
|Texas||Active||Texas State Guard||Texas State Guard Maritime Regiment||yes||||yes|
|Vermont||Active||Vermont State Guard||yes||?|
|Virginia||Active||Virginia State Defense Force||Riverine Detachment||||?|
|Washington||Active||Washington State Guard||||not currently|
|West Virginia||Not Established|||
* Colorado does not operate an active state defense force, but rather has a statutory state defense force staffed by one individual appointed by the governor.