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State Defense Forces, an Untapped Homeland Defense Asset

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Research paper

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Since the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York City and Washington DC, a comprehensive Federal Government review of homeland security and homeland defense has led to a massive effort to coordinate assets at the local, state, and federal levels. Yet, little has been written about expanding the use of State Defense Forces SDFs, who continue to play an important but unheralded role in defending the homeland. The SDFs trace their roots to the Colonial militia. Subsequent to the American Revolution, the Founding Fathers attempted to institutionalize their distrust for a large standing active force by depending on local militia units as the first line of defense. This idea was abandoned due to defense requirements for an expanding nation. As an alternative, in 1789 Congress granted special permission to maintain a small military force autonomous of state control with the understanding that it would be used as augmentation for emergencies. The Militia Act of 1792 was the first attempt to regulate militias. Militia units served on numerous occasions throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. But while well meaning, the Militia Act was never widely enforced and unit effectiveness varied. In response to these problems, in 1903 Congressman Charles Dick sponsored legislation that granted Federal recognition to the land forces of the organized militia, designating them the National Guard NG. NG units augmented Federal forces for the Mexican Border Campaign in 1916, and were soon reactivated in preparation for WWI. With their NG forces federalized, States found themselves ill-prepared to provide a replacement force to accomplish traditional state missions. Passage of the National Defense Act of 1916 provided them cursory authority to do so. This paper briefly reviews the role of the State Guard as NG replacement units during WWI, WWII, Korean War, and Cold War. The paper also reviews SDF missions, capabilities, force levels, funding, cost-effectiveness, and training.

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  • Humanities and History
  • Military Forces and Organizations
  • Civil Defense

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