Here's a fun fact: Did you know the National Guard is older than the Army and even the country?

December 13th, 2023 marks this military force's 387th birthday — a testament to its enduring legacy of service and sacrifice. As we celebrate this milestone, it's important to commemorate not just the history of the institution, but also the brave men and women who have served and safeguarded our nation for nearly four centuries.

Join us as we take a deeper dive into the history and significance of the U.S. National Guard.

When Was the National Guard Established?
Today, the National Guard includes both the Army National Guard as well as the Air National Guard. However, long before the invention of the airplane, the organization began as a colonial militia force, tracing its roots back to Massachusetts.

On December 13th, 1636, the Massachusetts Bay Colony organized the 181st Infantry, the 182nd Cavalry, the 101st Field Artillery and the 101st Engineer Battalion to protect itself. These four regiments still stand as the oldest units in the U.S. military.

What About the Air National Guard?
While the National Guard is older than the Army, the Air National Guard and the U.S. Air Force are actually the same age. That's because, prior to 1947, the two were part of the Army Air Corps (later changed to Army Air Forces during WWII). However, the National Security Act would officially separate the two branches on September 18th of that same year, eventually transferring the Army Air Forces units to the newly established Air National Guard as an aerial reserve component.

The Role of the National Guard
As a state-based military force, the National Guard plays a pivotal role in responding to domestic emergencies and natural disasters, as well as defending our country when necessary. They operate as a dual-purpose institution for both state and federal missions across U.S. states and territories — even deploying overseas. With diverse capabilities, from combat to humanitarian work, the National Guard is dedicated to responding to critical emergencies, preserving homeland security and supporting global peace efforts.

What Does it Mean to be Part of the National Guard?
While National Guard servicemembers are sometimes lampooned as "weekend warriors," this jab couldn't be further from the truth. Being a member of the National Guard carries an immense commitment to service, readiness and community. They may be citizen-soldiers, but they maintain a delicate balance of military duty with civilian work — all while undergoing rigorous training to prepare for times of crisis. That way, they're ready to defend, protect and serve the nation on a moment's notice.

Commemorating the National Guard's Birthday
The National Guard's birthday isn't a national holiday, nor is it a free day off of work or school. However, that doesn't mean the day isn't celebrated. Many servicemembers make a point to commemorate December 13th to honor military heritage as well as the sacrifice of their brothers and sisters in arms. One common event is the cake-cutting ceremony, in which the oldest member of a Guard unit and the youngest cut a large cake to share with everyone. Some units might also host local celebrations, gathering with other members of the Guard and the larger community.

Recognizing 387 Years of Service and Sacrifice
While there won't be any fanfare or parades this December 13th, civilians can still honor the National Guard's birthday by attending community events and expressing their gratitude toward those who have served. Taking the time to hear their stories, learn about their contributions, and actively support veterans and their families is a meaningful way to recognize their sacrifices and perhaps the best way to celebrate this observance.