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.


Why Would Gov. Baker Kill the MSDF Which Cost the State Nothing?

Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts recently killed an organization that was entirely voluntary and in its short 4-year existence did cost the state of Massachusetts a single penny. This organization was known as the Massachusetts State Defense Force (MSDF). If this organization is unfamiliar to you that is because of its intentional low profile. The MSDF was one of 21 other state defense forces. In our local region the states of Connecticut and New York each have such a force. The MSDF was organized under Massachusetts state law “General Laws, Part 1, Title V Chapter 33, Section 10.” It existed as a lawful part of the Massachusetts military which includes the National Guard. Such forces exist under Title 32 of the U.S. Code which is also where the National Guards exist.

The primary original mission of the MSDF was to act as a liaison between the civil authorities of the cities and towns of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts National Guard. It was expected that the MSDF would be called to duty during times of emergency; snow storms, hurricanes, floods, and tornados as well as other emergency situation which arise and affect multiple communities of Massachusetts.

The Governor of Massachusetts is the Commander in Chief of all Massachusetts military forces. Directly beneath him is a Major General of the National Guard with the title of Adjutant General. He commands all military forces of Massachusetts which includes the National Guard and the MSDF.

The MSDF was formed January 2012 with a small cadre of officers and enlisted men. With a couple of exceptions, all original members were veterans of the Army, Air Force and Marines. Several had received wartime awards including the purple heart, the bronze and silver star. The members had a diverse background including law enforcement, medicine, human resources, computer technology. Most had bachelor’s degrees and some professional degrees.

At its height the membership was a modest 25 individuals. On a number of occasions one or more were called to State Active Duty to assist during emergency situations. All did so gladly. And even though a modicum of pay was earned, none was ever received but this did not dampen the desire of every individual to serve again when called.

During Hurricane Sandy, the New York Militia, the MSDF equivalent, served for nearly two weeks adding invaluable service to the NY National Guard, NY Emergency Management Agency, NY first responders including police and fire. Most of the 21 states with active defense forces fund their force for purposes of training and equipment. Two, Texas and California, have even separated their defense force into an army force and an air force. The California force is in excess of 1500 members with an annual budget of about $634,000. The Texas State Guard has approximately 2200 members with a $495,000 annual budget. These states and all others with active state defense forces have found them to be an invaluable resource.

Typically, these defense forces do some of their training with that state’s national guard. This helps keep costs down and training uniform. All defense forces wear either the army or air force standard combat uniform. The state defense force is structured exactly as its national guard counterparts.

The federal government for many years now has been reducing the size of both active and reserve militaries. During the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars many National Guard units found themselves lacking necessary personnel to complete the homeland mission. This is where the Military Defense Force filled in. In the case of Massachusetts, several MSDF lawyers assisted soldiers being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan with necessary legal matters. And today, more than ever, National Guard soldiers are being called to extended active duty because regular army and air force soldiers are too few in number to complete necessary missions.

Once Charlie Baker became governor his signature on a document was required to continue the MSDF as an active force. For reasons which were never explained, he declined to sign off. The MSDF was summary ordered to stand down (made inactive). Where the MSDF had not cost the state of Massachusetts any funds at all, it must be assumed that some political agenda came to force his hand against its continuation. This was a mistake but a reversible one.

It had become extremely apparent to all members of the MSDF that we were able to provide a valuable link between the various National Guard units and the towns and cities of Massachusetts. It was felt that during an emergency a member of the MSDF could collect the data of the towns in need of assistance and route that information to the military leadership as well as MEMA who could respond most effectively to those needs. The ability of those individual MSDF members to move between towns would allow those towns a certain level of satisfaction that their needs were both being heard and responded to.

I suggest that Gov. Baker reconsider his decision and re-active the MSDF with all due haste. The MSDF is a value added resource for the State of Massachusetts and considering its cost, extremely inexpensive. It does not replicate any existing organizations and used properly, it can in a very short time become a service so valuable one would wonder why the State of Massachusetts has not always had such a group of highly motivated, highly skilled men and women in its service.