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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 units can be federalized under the National Defense Act of 1933 with the creation of the National Guard of the United States.) 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. But, 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 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. In 1903, the predecessor to the modern-day National Guard was formed to augment the militia and Regular Army with a federally controlled reserve force. In 1933, Congress finalized the split between the National Guard and the state defense forces by mandating that all federally-funded soldiers take a dual enlistment/commission and thus enter both the state National Guard (Title 32) and the National Guard of the United States (Title 10). This division forced states to maintain both a National Guard and a state defense force if they desired to have non-federal soldiers. During World War II, much of the National Guard was deployed on federal duty. Many states continued to maintain distinct state militias (some building on ones that never ceased to exist) to defend their own territories and shorelines.
Many states organize their state defense force parallel to their National Guard force (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.
Various bills have been introduced in the United States Congress regarding the state defense forces. These include:
Training standards vary widely. 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 through MEMS academies in each state, and includes course material provided online 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. CERT teams are open to any able-bodied citizen and are a good way for SDFs to integrate into their communities.
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.
SDFs include a variety of special units including medical, aviation, and ceremonial units. The following are examples:
As a general rule, state defense forces wear standard U.S. military uniforms with insignia closely matching those of their federal counterpart. 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 similar to National Guard counterparts except for the unit patch, beret flash, and the "California" name tape. Outer garments such as a Gore-Tex jacket will 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 M81 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 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|
|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 olive drab||Black on olive drab||Patrol cap & subdued insignia|
Black beret w/red flash
|New York Guard||NY 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|
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 23 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 Puerto Rico State Guard includes an aviation support component. The Texas State Guard's Air Component Command supports the Texas Air National Guard and provides Defense Support to Civil Authorities, (DSCA).
The following is a list of active SDFs in the United States and Puerto Rico:
|State or Territory||Military Division||Naval Division||State Law||Armed|
|Alabama||Alabama State Defense Force||none||||No|
|Alaska||Alaska State Defense Force||Alaska Naval Militia|||
|California||California State Military Reserve||California Naval Militia|||
|Connecticut||Connecticut State Militia Units||none|
|District of Columbia||none||none|
|Georgia||Georgia State Defense Force||none||||No|
|Indiana||Indiana Guard Reserve||none|||
|Illinois||none||Illinois Naval Militia|
|Louisiana||Louisiana State Guard||none|||
|Maryland||Maryland Defense Force||none||||No|
|Massachusetts||Massachusetts State Defense Force||none||No|
|Michigan||Michigan Volunteer Defense Force||none|
|Mississippi||Mississippi State Guard||none|
|New Jersey||none||New Jersey naval militia|
|New Mexico||New Mexico State Guard||none|
|New York||New York Guard||New York Naval Militia|
|Ohio||Ohio Military Reserve||Ohio Naval Militia|
|Oregon||Oregon State Defense Force||none|||
|Puerto Rico||Puerto Rico State Guard||none|
|South Carolina||South Carolina State Guard||none|
|Tennessee||Tennessee State Guard||none|
|Texas||Texas State Guard||Texas State Guard Maritime Regiment|||
|Vermont||Vermont State Guard||none|
|Virginia||Virginia State Defense Force||Riverine Detachment||||No|
|Washington||Washington State Guard||none||||No|
* 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.