Here's Why the National Guard Is Over 100 Years Older Than the Other Military Services

Cutting National Guard's 384th birthday cake
U.S. Army Sgt. Mason Mackrell, the Georgia Army National Guard’s Outstanding Soldier of the Year, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Thomas Carden, The Adjunct General of Georgia, and U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Alisha Sanders, the Georgia Air National Guard's Outstanding Airmen of the Year, cut a birthday cake in observation of the National Guard's 384th birthday, Dec. 10, 2020, at Clay National Guard Center, Marietta, Georgia. (Isaiah Matthews/U.S. Army National Guard)

The Army, Navy and Marine Corps can beef over which service was created first in the year before the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776, but the National Guard claims to have them all beat by more than a century.

The National Guard Bureau and the National Guard Association of the U.S. are celebrating what they say is the 384th birthday of the National Guard.

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"The National Guard is America's oldest military organization and has 450,000 citizen soldiers and airmen located in communities across all 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia," the National Guard Bureau said in a Friday statement.

On Dec. 13, 1636, the Massachusetts Bay Colony legislature ordered village militia companies to form into three regiments. And the lineage of those three regiments has passed on uninterrupted since then and is now represented by two Guard battalions in service in Massachusetts, NGAUS said in a release.

Of course, that statement also does not go uncontested. A couple of states and Puerto Rico maintain that they had militias before 1636, but those militias were not in continuous service to the present day, said NGAUS spokesman John Goheen.

In congratulatory video birthday messages, military leaders confirmed that, yes, the National Guard really is the oldest service.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said "Happy 384th birthday to the National Guard. We are incredibly proud of our soldiers in the National Guard and the incredible work you do for our country."

Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett said "Happy 384th to the men and women of the National Guard. In 1636, Oxford University Press, Harvard and the U.S. National Guard were founded, 140 years before the Declaration of independence was signed."

McCarthy, Barrett and National Guard leaders also noted the particular contributions of the Guard this year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, wildfires, hurricanes and civil unrest.

At the peak in June, the National Guard had mobilized nearly 120,000 soldiers and airmen to meet the challenges.

"Today, more than 56,500 Guard members remain on duty in their communities and around the globe, living up to their motto: 'Always Ready; Always There,'" officials with the National Guard Bureau said.

The traditional cake cuttings marking the birthday were limited this year because of the continuing pandemic, but all Guard members should know that "their unique service and sacrifice this year -- our 384th year of existence -- are greatly appreciated," retired Brig. Gen. J. Roy Robinson, president of NGAUS, said in a statement.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

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