History of the SDF’s

History of State Defense Forces

Federal support for SDF has waxed and waned since their initial conception in 1916. Since 1955, there has been a gradual decoupling of DoD from SDF, even though SDF have received increased attention after the attacks of September 11, 2001


New York Guard members identified as Jake, Jim, Garry, Dick,Tom, Bill, and Hill mount Guard near New Paltz, N.Y., sometime during 1918

The National Guard was mobilized and deployed overseas in large numbers for the first time in support of World War I. As a result of the deployment of National Guard units, the states identified a need for additional troops to handle state-specific security missions. In response, Congress authorized U.S. Guards for internal security in states,38 and the states created state guards, home guards, and, in some cases, county guards.  Most state entities were disbanded after the end of the war and the return of National Guard units.

In 1940, Congress passed legislation authorizing states to have State Guards in peacetime in anticipation of the mobilization of the National Guard for World War II. During the war, virtually every state established a State Guard, and total enrollment numbered over 168,000 members. While not under direct command of the War Department, the Federal military establishment administered and coordinated State Guard activities. In December 1940, the Secretary of War designated the National Guard Bureau as the administrative agency for State Guard units, with responsibility for coordination between state military authorities and Commanding Generals of Corps areas (later Service Commands). The National Guard Bureau helped define the role of state military forces in successive emergency plans of the War Department, and then monitored the local coordination of state and Federal missions.

The Commanding General of Army Service Forces assumed responsibility for the formulation of War Department policies toward State Defense Forces. The Service Commands assisted state military authorities with State Guard training and development, furnishing part-time instructors and providing positions for State Guard officers at Service Command schools.

The War Department maintained positive control over State Guard units through command inspections. While states organized and formed the unit, Federal inspection was a requirement for access to Federal property and other support. Units that did not meet established Federal standards could be denied support and disbanded.

POST World War II

Effective July 1947, Congress withdrew authority for states to maintain troops in peacetime. The states disbanded all State Guard units by the end of 1947.

In January 1949, the National Guard Bureau, in conjunction with the Office of Provost Marshall General, prepared a preliminary study on the use of state military forces in internal security. In April of the following year, the Office of the Army Chief of Operations (G-3) conducted a study on State Guards and internal security. In response to the Army study, the National Guard Bureau recommended that the Department of the Army encourage the formation of both state police and State Guard units, particularly military police units. The Department of the Army suggested limiting their role to cooperative planning and liaison with the states, but agreed to furnish arms, ammunition, clothing, and equipment, as available, providing such assistance did not interfere with the requirements of the Army.

California State Guard (SDF)

In 1950, following the outbreak of hostilities on the Korean peninsula, Congress again authorized states to maintain troops, in addition to the National Guard, for a period of 2 years. In May 1951, the National Security Council and the Defense Department stated there was a need for non-military civil defense groups as wartime reserves under the supervision of of the Federal Civil Defense Administration. Federal authority for state troops expired in September 1952 and most states disbanded their State Guard cadres.

Field Training during a CA State Guard (SDF) Drill

In 1955, Congress authorized SDF in their current form. “In addition to its National Guard, if any, a State, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, Guam, or the Virgin Islands may, as provided by its laws, organize and maintain defense forces.

In 1969, the Gates Commission concluded that the most effective solution to end universal conscription would be to create an all-volunteer force. However, development of an all-volunteer military force depended heavily on the Total Force Concept, which required integration of the Active & Reserve components. Dependence of the Total Force Concept on Reserve Component forces increased the likelihood that states would be left without their National Guard troops if they were deployed overseas.

The creation and expansion of SDF throughout the United States remained slow throughout the Vietnam War. In February 1979, the House Armed Services Committee received testimony that 13 states and Puerto Rico maintained an SDF in addition to their National Guard, but the roles, organization, equipment, and training were not standardized. Soon after, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs undertook a study of the history of Home Defense Forces. The realization of the all-volunteer force led many states to revive their SDF during the 1980s.

In 1981, the Adjutant General of the state of Washington was appointed by the Chief, National Guard Bureau to chair a committee on SDF and became, in practice, the National Guard Bureau spokesman for its position on SDF. In 1982, the National Guard Bureau viewed the SDF as an organization that would respond to natural disasters, civil disturbances and ensure continuation of vital public services, civil defense, and other specialized missions that might arise after mobilization of the National Guard. The National Guard Bureau stated that they believed the Federal Government should equip SDF, while National Guard technicians planned, organized, and coordinated SDF activities and maintained the equipment. The National Guard Bureau proposal included reimbursement by the Federal Government to the states for Federal or state missions performed by the SDF.

In 1987, the National Guard Bureau published National Guard Regulation 10-4, “Organization and Functions: State Defense Forces, National Guard Bureau, and State National Guard Interaction.” Between publication of the regulation and the terrorist attacks of September 2001, the National Guard was not often deployed for Federal missions. During that time, the National Guard Bureau maintained that SDF be established as cadre organizations.

POST 9-11

In January 2001, the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century suggested the primary mission of the National Guard become homeland security. The attack on September 11, 2001, dramatically changed the focus of the National Guard mission from domestic to overseas operations.

New York Army National Guard Pfc. Alexander Ladighin of the 222 Chemical Company and New York Guard Pvt. Jose Castro, of the 88th Brigade, work together to erect a decontamination tent during Homeland Response Force training.

At the same time, significant and comprehensive institutional and procedural changes throughout the executive branch, including the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and establishment of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and U.S. Northern Command, increased Federal participation to formerly state-centric responses.

The duration and frequency of National Guard deployments supporting Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and Operation Iraqi Freedom shifted the focus of the National Guard mission from a strategic reserve to part of the operational forces. SDF were revitalized and selectively activated to assist in homeland security, emergency response, disaster recovery, and infrastructure protection to help fulfill state missions of deployed National Guard forces.