Three hundred eighty-five years ago today, in 1636, the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony ordered a number of local units of militia to consolidate into three divisions. It was one hundred thirty-nine years later that a national army was authorized by the Continental Congress in June 1775. The phrase “National Guard” grew from a usage in New York, which honored the French National Guard in memory of the Marquis de Lafayette.
Today, every state of the union has a National Guard organization. In 1947, the army reserve corps was increased by the addition of an Air Force Guard under an act of Congress, which formally established the nation’s Air Force.
It is likely that the popular view of the National Guard is that it serves the country’s military forces as originally intended, i.e., as a reserve corps. On a number of occasions, however, the use of the National Guard has involved specious involvement and, often, dissonance in the chain of command.
In 1957, Arkansas Governor Orville Faubus directed the state’s guard to prevent the integration of Little Rock High School, creating a dilemma for President Dwight Eisenhower and his determination to uphold a federal court order. In response, Eisenhower dispatched 1,000 paratroopers to the city and federalized the state guard.
National Guard personnel have also been deployed to assist communities in times of natural disasters along with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), as well as with potential civic crises such as the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995. In contrast, however, the role of the National Guard on January 6, 2021, has come under question with respect to response time and the chain of command from the Pentagon to the Capitol Police.
Recently, the current governor of Oklahoma issued a directive that the state’s guard need not be vaccinated against COVID, despite an order from the Secretary of Defense and existing mandatory vaccinations for military personnel. Other than populist political posing, the gubernatorial resistance appears to be headed nowhere, except for the firing of Oklahoma guard members who resist the federal mandate, and further clarification of chinks in the chain of command.
Once a popular question was “what’s the matter with Kansas?” Oklahoma now appears to be vying for first place in that competition.