State Defense Forces


There is a little known organization, established under Title 32 of the U.S. Code, call the state military branch.  Under Title 32 are two entities.  The better known is the National Guard while the other is the state militia or the state defense force.  Each is organized under the state’s governor and his Adjutant General, usually a two star general in either the Army or the Air Force.  Beneath the Adjutant General, or AG as he is known, are all the state’s military functions.  The difference between the two, in part, is the Department of Defense, or the President, can call the National Guard to active duty at which time they are governed by Title 10 of the U.S. Code.  Under Title 32 the military forces’ Commander-in-Chief is the governor of the state whereas under Title 10 it is the President.  Title 32 states that a state’s militia cannot be called up under Title 10 except under a few extraordinary circumstances.

Right now approximately 20 of the 50 states have active State Defense Forces although certain states use other monikers such as State Militia.  As a general rule, State Defense Forces are not eligible to receive Federal equipment.  They can, however, use the same facilities as the state’s National Guard and usually do.

The mission of State Defense Forces is primarily to augment the state’s National Guard.  Over the past 30 years the National Guard of all 50 states has been reduced by more than 50%.  Their state mission has not changed however.  In times of an emergency in the state, they are frequently called up, floods, crowd control, storms, security and a variety of other missions.  But also over those 30 years the active mission of all the National Guard has increased with numerous deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq to augment the regular army.  Many times this has left the various states short of personnel during times of emergency.  At such times it becomes the mission of the State Defense Force to back-fill for the state’s National Guard as needed.  One of the more valuable missions for a State Defense Force is to act as a liaison between local first responders and the state’s National Guard.  This type of a mission is not defined in the state National Guard mission and not usually trained for.

State Defense Forces are volunteer programs.  In many, if not most, states the time a person gives to the force is free.  There are some states that do give a small stipend for training.  The only time a State Defense Force is paid is during a time of call-up by the state’s governor or AG.  Personnel are paid in accordance with their rank and its federal pay scale.  Most State Defense Force are formed along US Army lines, uniforms, ranks, units, types of training.  A few states have an air wing and a couple even have a small naval force, more akin to the Coast Guard than the Navy.

My experience came with the Massachusetts State Defense Force which was re-activated January 2012 and then deactivated March 2016.  We bought our uniforms, attended monthly training on our own dime, and assisted the Massachusetts National Guard at the National Guard Headquarters during several emergencies.  The members of our unit, with a few exceptions, had considerable active military service or service in the National Guard.  We had Silver Star and Bronze Star recipients, a couple of Purple Heart recipients.  Many of the members had advanced degrees and professional degrees.  Every member wanted to serve out of a sense of duty to state and country.  No reason was ever given for the unit’s deactivation except that Governor Charlie Baker declined to sign the units authorization documents when he took over as governor.  It seems an odd thing to do considering the unit had not cost the state a thing.

The value of such units around the United States should be obvious.  There is a very large group of veterans who would like to continue their military service in this manner.  There is also a group of professionals who would also like to contribute to their community, doctors, lawyers, nurses, ministers, etc.  The value of having such personnel available to the various states should be obvious and the fact that State Defense Forces come at a very low cost should render them extremely desirable to all 50 states.

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