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.

Military Preparedness

This month, June 2013, the Department of Defense announced it will be reducing the size of the army, both active and reserve, by 14%.  The reasoning is dual: budget cuts and peacetime requirements.  The problem with this thinking is simple: the army was already too small.  It is relevant here to remind readers of the maxim that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

When Thomas Jefferson took office in 1801, he saw the Federal Government saddled with what he viewed as an unwieldy debt.  Jefferson’s idea was to completely eliminate the regular army but “settled” for reducing it by 1/3.  He cut the army’s budget by ½ and stopped all naval ship building stating that a “big boat” navy was unnecessary.  It was, in fact, the will of the people he carried out but it nearly proved our country’s undoing.

Curiously, however, it was Jefferson who founded the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1802.  Jefferson, like other founders of the country, was aware of the vacuum of professionally trained military officers in America.  Washington himself was an exception, but by and large the leaders of the Revolution had been either political appointees or voted into leadership in their state’s militia by their fellow townspeople.  But Jefferson’s view of the future, even with a home grown professional military establishment, he viewed peacetime military needs to by small.

The War of 1812 happened because of the impressment of American commercial sailors being impressed, forced into service, in the British navy.  America did not have the navy to protect its interests.  Although England had no desire to reign over America, it did carry the battle forward was it was engaged.  America was so shorthanded that it was not until 1814 that it was able to raise a force sufficient to repulse the English, and even then a combination of luck and help from the French was needed.

That done, however, America once again fell into a military morass, keeping just enough troops to fight on its western frontier, and the occasional skirmish with Mexico.

The Civil War did nothing to change the American mindset.  The entire war, on both sides, was fought with each state’s militia.  Even though these forces were large they were also quickly and easily disbanded at war’s end.  Heroes like George Armstrong Custer, who rose to the level of Major General, 2 stars, during the war, was returned to the grade of Lieutenant Colonel after the war since he had been a part of the Michigan militia.  To this day, such practices are still common.

The next engagement of any size, the Spanish-American war, did not seriously challenge the state and size of the military to any great degree.  And when America finally entered World War 1, April 1917, its entire army, active and reserve, consisted of about 300,000 men.  Worse, those who were in the regular army, were poorly trained and poorly equipped for the most part.  The American army had no serviceable aircraft with which to counter the German air corps, and no tanks either.  So poorly prepared was America that it was a full year before the first American troops saw action.  Fortunately, American patriotism ran high and once America committed itself, recruiting soldiers in large numbers was fairly easy.  But as anyone familiar with the military knows, from enlistment to the completion of initial training takes a good six months, and then you have green troops.  Thrown into action, green troops are likely to suffer a high casualty rate.   General John (Black Jack) Pershing, a man with considerable experience, knew this only too well and was able to forestall the introduction of American troops into battle until he was satisfied they were properly trained and properly lead.

But World War 1 left such a bad taste in the mouths of Americans, the hideousness of the trench warfare and the liberal use of gas, brought home the horrors of modern warfare.  Americans dubbed it as “the war to end all wars.”  The felt justified in using the draconian doctrines of handling post-war Germany that they were unable to see that it not only destabilized the entire Western Europe, but sowed the inevitable seeds for a second world war.  To be fair, the French and English demands upon reparations from Germany for actual costs of war were so heavy that the economic bankruptcy of Germany was insured.  America, for its part, was happy to simply walk away and be done with it all.

The war over, America once again reduced the size of its military to a level that put the country in jeopardy, although Americans were wont to see or understand this.  Funding for development of new weapon systems, particularly the military aircraft, was cut to nearly nothing.  The allies had forced upon the defeated German people, and itself, a tonnage limit to the number and size of naval forces.

During his court martial in 1925, General William Mitchell warned America against the military complacency it had not only embraced, but demanded.  He warned the cost in American lives at the outbreak of hostilities, a foregone conclusion in his estimation, would be great.  No one listened.  On July 1, 1941, a mere 5 months prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the active army forces stood at 151,000.  Once again, too many of those soldiers were poorly trained and poorly equipped.

After WWII, Korea and Vietnam provided enough inertia for America to keep a sizeable and adequately supplied military.  In the late 1980s, during the Reagan-Bush administrations, the Base Closure Commission was tasked with closing and combining unnecessary and redundant military facilities.  This was actually a good idea.  But with it came the incessant reduction in the size of the active duty military, those who are not a part of either the reserves forces or the National Guard.

When the first Gulf War happened, the reliance upon National Guard forces increased more than at any time since the Civil War.  To be clear, the American National Guard, while partially federally funded, fall firstly under the command of each state’s governor and then as a secondary reserve force to be activated, brought on active duty, during periods of national emergency.  The primary mission of these citizen soldiers had always been primarily to ensure the security of the individual states.  The Vietnam War did use National Guard troops but it was more the exception than the rule.  Today, that had changed.  Also during the Vietnam War, those National Guard troops used in the war were assured of a single tour and nothing more.  That too is no longer true.  Entire National Guard units have experienced 2, 3 and 4 tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.  This has led to the states being consistently short-handed in National Guard troops to conduct necessary state activities.  And yet, these short-handed states, will be asked once again to reduce the size of their force.

My concern is a simple one.  The extensiveness of our next altercation is an unknown but it is a sure thing.  If, for example, North Korea decided to invade the south, we would be hard pressed to provide the additional forces South Korea would need to protect itself.  To its credit, South Korea possesses one of the largest and best trained military forces in the free world.  But even so, it is not nearly as large as it northern neighbor and would require our immediate and substantial support.  I am not certain to what level we could meet that commitment.

That part of the world which would love to take America down is only encouraged by our continued reduction in force.  They know our ability to respond is reduced and it gives them confidence to do their mischief.  You must remember, there is a certain percentage of the military which cannot be deployed to a war zone simply because of our requirements at home, and in other countries.

I believe that if anything, the size of our active duty army needs to be at around 1 million men, or a little more than twice its present size.  Similarly, our reserve forces, to include the National Guard, should be at last another 1 million men.  And this is over and above active and reserve naval and air forces and their respective reserve components.  Yes, it is expensive but it is also the cost of our peace of mind in today’s world.  While we may never fight another war like World War 2, we also cannot entirely dismiss the idea.  We do so only at our own peril.

Why Is America Always Trying to Disband Its Military?

When Thomas Jefferson took the oath of office in 1801, one of his first moves was his attempt to entirely disband the Federal Military Forces.  Were it not for some powerful opponents who had gone to great lengths to bring a US Navy into existence, he would have succeeded.  Jefferson considered a professional military a luxury, and one the nation could ill-afford.  His successor, James Madison, in 1812 had to deal with the result of his efforts.  British troops encountered little resistance on their way to Washington D.C. and had little trouble in burning down the nation’s capitol building.  The heroes and military leadership of the Revolution were either aging or dead, and were of no use in the War of 1812.  It must be remembered that the war was started over the United States objecting to the impressment of American merchant sailors into the British Navy.  The U.S., however, lacked the force to prevent such impressments.

Some view the Civil War as the campaign of two great armies against one-another.  But nothing could be further from the truth, at least at the beginning.  Even though most of the professional soldiers wore Union Blue at the start of the war, they were largely unprepared and lacked for good leadership.  Conversely, Confederate troops were largely irregulars but were fortunate to have a lot of good and professional military leaders in their midst.

Again, when Japan brought war to our shores in December of 1941, the US Army had a little over 100,000 regular troops.  Had Japan and Germany been able to bring a large contingent of their professional armies to our shores, we most certainly would have suffered far longer before getting ourselves properly positioned.

It seemed we had finally learned our lesson because at the start of the Korean War and then again Vietnam, we had a sufficiently large standing army, at least for the start of hostilities.

Then, not too long before the first Gulf War, a curious thing happened.  President George Bush and congress decided we had too much military, that our country could no longer afford all the men and facilities.  Enter the Base Closure Commission.  It was the mission of this commission to identify duplicate efforts, little needed facilities, and excesses and either close or combine them in the name of economics.  At its heart it was a good idea, but they had a side-agenda that received little to no publicity.  That agenda was to re-organize the American Military into what was termed “leaner” units.  The was political double-talk for troop reductions at all levels.

To be truthful, the American military mission has changed in some respects greatly from World War II.  We fought WWII as a war of attrition meaning we could throw more men and material at you than you could at us.  We could easily overwhelm you, and that is exactly what we did.  But Vietnam taught us that our WWII philosophy was simply no longer efficient.  In spite of our saturation bombing of North Vietnam, we were simply unable to overwhelm them with our might.  The North Vietnamese army and the Viet Cong fought in small and dispersed units who used guerrila tactics.  They knew how to kill us using the old Chinese maxim of dying from a thousand cuts.  Afer 1975 we knew we had to fight smarter.  Americans became amused with the idea of fighting a war of technology that used machines for the close-up work and men would largely stay well behind the lines.  The first Gulf War, however, if anything, should have taught us that this view, while fanciful, was unrealistic.

In 1991 we had just enough full-time soldiers to effect a quick liberation of Kuwait and the ability to turn back the Iraqi Republican Guard to behind its own borders.  But at that point we were forced to stop until our logistics could catch up with our lines.  Simply put, there were not enough men on the ground to continue the charge, as it were.  Pres. Bush quickly activated reservists and national guard troops to help fill the breech.  Fortunately our reserves and national guard were at much higher levels on manning than exists today.  Reservists made a single six month or less rotation and were not called upon again.

I think the sign of Washington’s ever-present folly in its thinking came to bear when it was decided during the first base closures to close Fort Ord California.  The 7th Infantry Division of Fort Ord had been deployed to Iraq in 1992 to help win that war.  Not long after its return, the 7th Infantry Division was deactivated and then in 1994 Fort Ord was closed.  Fort Ord’s 28,600 acres comprised the US Army largest maneuver facility in the United States.  That was significant because, as anyone who had served in the military knows, armies need large tracts of land to practice their tactics and work out their problems.  Congress had deprived the American military of its best facility for that.

At the same time the federal government informed state governments that their national guard forces would be seeing a considerable reduction.  How, you ask, can this happen if nominally the national guard serves the individual states first, Title 32 of the U.S. Code, and the Federal Government during times of emergency, Title 10 of the U.S. Code?  Simple, the Federal Government pays for the lion’s share of the equipment the state governments use for their national guard troops.  Congress informed the states that, for example, it would no longer put up $1 billion for their state’s forces, but would now only give $400 million, and the state could make up any differences.  While that is a little over-simplified, it is what basically happened.  By the year 2000 many states’ national guard had been reduced by 50% or more, usually more.

Enter September 11, 2001.  George W. Bush quickly sends America to war with Afghanistan, and not too long afterwards, Iraq.  But America’s standing army is small, and its reserve and guard forces a mere shell of what they had once been.  Why is that important?

During World War II the impact of combat fatigue came to bear.  No one in America had any idea of what it was or how to deal with it.  Even though our active military forces exceeded 2 million troops during the war, our troops were being ordered to stay longer than any had signed up for.  Now in fairness, most enlistees literally signed up for “the duration,” as stated in their contracts, but few understood that to mean 2 continuous years or more of fighting on the front.  Yet that is exactly what happened to too many of our troops.  Post-war the American military dedicated itself to the ideal of requiring any person to serve no more than one tour of duty, one calendar year, in a war zone.  To that end we were entirely successful during and through the war in Vietnam. The only troops who ever served more than one tour in Vietnam requested to do so.  Americans seemed to understand, congress as well, that we needed to have a sufficient supply of active and reserve troops to fill such an objective.

We now live in an age where reservists and national guardsmen are required to serve 2, 3, and 4 tours of duty in a war zone.  It seems to have become acceptable to require part-time soldiers to do the job of a regular standing force.  We seem to have forgotten that our National Guard, originally called state militia, were meant to be called only in times of national emergency.  What, pray-tell, is our present national emergency that such a large percentage of our reservist must regularly be called to active duty and sent to a war zone?

The solution to this is simple yet expensive.  But the American public needs to come to grips with the idea, and the ideal, that a formidable standing force, full-time soldiers, is necessary to guarantee our peace of mind.  At this very moment congress is making plans to yet again reduce the strength of our active duty military.  As the old maxim says, “penny-wise and pound-foolish.”  If anything, we need to increase the size of our active military force as-well-as our reserves and national guard forces.  The type of freedom and liberty we enjoy here in the United States does not come cheaply.  Why is it then we are not willing to put forward the level of funding  necessary to insure our peace and tranquility?

“Those who do not remember their history are doomed to repeat it.”  It is not, therefore, impossible that we could suffer another “Pearl Harbor” or even worse.  Do we really want that?  Have we become so complacent that we truly believe that to be impossible?  For those of you who think the answer “yes,” we cannot possibly have another Pearl Harbor, I entreat you to read a book called “The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell” and see if you cannot find parallels to his warnings of 1925 and the conditions that exist today.