Since their inception during the nation’s colonial era the “Militia” – later known as the “National Guard” – has forged a long and distinguished history of not only service to the nation during times of national emergencies, but also service to the governors of the states establishing and supporting militia/guard units in times of disaster affecting their home states. That history was embellished significantly during the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center, and the Pentagon, when Army and Air National Guard units answered the call to duty not only by protecting the skies over the nation’s capital but also such critical-infrastructure sites as airports and nuclear power plants.
The militia tradition started prior to the Revolutionary War when a number of towns and cities established and maintained their own defense forces for missions ranging from the guarding of homes from Indian attacks to more traditional military operations such as the battles fought against British forces during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. The legacy of service established in those years carried on through the end of the 19th century, with locally sponsored militia units proving themselves to be increasingly effective at providing support both to their home states and to the federal government.
However, beginning with the Spanish American War in 1898, militia units started to be called on for federal service more and more frequently, and often to be used routinely in out-of-state operations. These changes raised a number of concerns at both state and national levels, and led to the passage of several pieces of legislation to help the militias and regulate their use more consistently. The Dick Act of 1903 and the National Defense Act of 1916 were among the most important laws passed in this area. These landmark acts mandated that the “organized militia” would henceforth be called the “National Guard,” and provided both federal recognition and subsequent funding for weapons, equipment, and training.
A Codification of Legislative Intent
In addition, the two laws codified several issues specifying the length and location of service for National Guard units. The intent of the nation’s lawmakers was to ensure that, when called upon for federal service, National Guard units and personnel would be both equal under the law with their active-duty counterparts and, insofar as was possible, possessed of similar combat capabilities.
The practical effect was that, from that time on, the National Guard would be both a state and a federal military force, with individual units owing allegiance first to the governors of their respective states, and then to the president of the United States. As a corollary, National Guard units were therefore required to be proficient both as a fighting force and as a state emergency-response force that could effectively train for and cope with natural and manmade disasters within their respective states on missions ranging from the fighting of forest fires and local “flood duty” assignments to assisting local law- enforcement agencies during prison riots.
During federal emergencies–World Wars I and II are the most obvious examples– National Guard unit’s made up much of the nation’s combat power in both the Pacific and European Theaters of War. Later, during the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the Army and Air National Guard both provided additional and much-needed troop strength and air assets to augment the nation’s active-duty forces in these supposedly limited conflicts.
New Threats, and an Updated Strategy
That tradition continued throughout the rest of the 20th century, but the fall of the Soviet Union and disintegration of the Warsaw Pact changed almost all contingency plans, naval/military operational requirements, and the spectrum of likely threats. The U.S. military, particularly the U.S. Army, began to rethink its previous strategies and force- structure needs to better answer the new threats beginning to emerge just over the horizon.
With the demise of the Central Front in Europe the most likely threat would no longer be a “Fulda Gap” outbreak, with hundreds of Soviet tanks rolling through the German countryside and the U.S. V Corps leading the NATO defense. Instead, and particularly since the dawn of the 21st century, Islamic extremists were becoming the principal perpetrators of worldwide violence. It was inevitable, therefore, that after the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. homeland a comprehensive strategic-defense review and realignment of federal military responsibilities and resources would be required.
One of the more significant changes in the resulting (and ongoing) realignment that resulted was the assignment to the National Guard of a larger role in U.S. homeland security. The realignment started in 1998 under the Clinton administration when the National Guard Bureau established a number of specialized units specifically structured to assist first responders in the event of an “incident” involving weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).
These units, first called Rapid Assessment and Initial Detection or RAID teams, consisted of 22 fulltime National Guardsmen per state—assigned from either the Army or Air National Guard—would be federally resourced, trained, and exercised. Each of these National Guard teams would be commanded by a lieutenant colonel and would be able to provide unique DOD-level expertise and capabilities to assist state governors–as major components of the state emergency-response structures being established–in preparing for and responding to so-called CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear) incidents.
One reason for establishment of the RAID teams–later renamed Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Teams (WMD-CSTs)—was to give individual states units that could rapidly deploy to assist local incident commanders in determining the nature and extent of an attack or incident; provide expert technical advice on WMD response operations, and helpentify the need for and support of follow-on state and federal military-response assets.
Their primary mission, though, is to support civil authorities in the event of a WMD or NBC (nuclear, biological, or chemical) incident. Within the scope of their duties and responsibilities, CSTs canentify dangerous agents and substances, and assess both current and projected consequences. In addition, they can provide expert professional advice on the response measures required and assist civil authorities with requests for military support.
The first 10 teams were based in Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, California, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington, with each of the teams originally fielded assigned to a specific FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) region. The establishment of an additional 17 teams–based in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Hawaii,aho, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Virginia–was announced in January 2002. When the force has been fully fielded there will be 55 certified teams, two of which will be headquartered in California.
A New Weapon in the Arsenal
The most recent additions to the growing number of National Guard units preparing for possible use in the Global War on Terrorism are the “Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, or High-Yield-Explosives Enhanced-Response Force Packages”–or CERFPs for short. The announced goal is to have at least one such unit immediately available in each of the 12 FEMA regions. To date, CERFP teams already have been established in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Florida, Illinois, Texas, Missouri, Colorado, Hawaii, and Washington. As regional assets, the CERFPs are on call to respond to intrastate emergencies through what are called Emergency Management Assistance Compacts.
Unlike the members of WMD-CST units, most CERFP personnel are assigned from previously existing units and are “traditional” or “M-Day” troops with civilian jobs. Each CERFP unit consists of approximately 100 to 120 members, assigned from both the Army and the Air National Guard, and has been assigned the primary missions of casualty decontamination, medical triage, and search-and-rescue operations. Most CERFP team members belong to civil support and/or patient decontamination teams; to medical, engineer, or chemical units; and/or to counter-drug aviation assets. Because of their flexible structure, each CERFPs has a robust capacity to incorporate other National Guard personnel or physical assets–e.g., fixed and rotary-wing aircraft and/or transportation, infantry, and military police units.
Because they are state assets, CERFP units may be activated either for State Active Duty. However, they also can be activated, under Title 10 of the United States Code, as federal units. Whether assigned to state or federal service, any CERFP units activated will be placed under the jurisdiction of a specific military commander.
The establishment and training of the units described are but two of the initiatives the National Guard has taken to meet the changing threat to the nation, and to individual states and cities, posed by the forces of international terrorism, and follows in the proud tradition, started more than two centuries ago, of citizen volunteers serving both their home states and, in times of national emergency, answering the “call to arms” of the federal government when needed.
Brent C. Bankus retired as a promotable Lieutenant Colonel from the Army National Guard Active Guard Reserve Program with over 25 years service. His military career, beginning in 1979 as an Armor/Cavalry officer encompassed command and staff positions in the U.S. Army, Army National Guard, and the Army Reserve. He has served in assignments within the United States and Germany as well as missions to Bosnia, Kosovo, Albania, Sinai, Eritrea, Guam and Hawaii. He has a BS from Bloomsburg University, PA, an MS in Information Management from Strayer University, VA and an MS in Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps Command and General Staff Colleges and the U.S. Army War College. He is a consultant with Resource Consultants, Inc.