The Evolving Role of the Citizen-Soldier

Established in 1636 when ordinary citizens formed militias to defend against hostile attacks, the National Guard is the country’s oldest military branch. The Guard’s citizen-soldiers have served as the nation’s first line of defense since America’s birth and have fought in every major conflict in America’s history, contributing to the organization’s expansive history and invaluable legacy.

With its dual mission, the National Guard is a reserve force with both state and federal responsibilities. Each soldier and airman holds membership in both the National Guard of his or her state and in the U.S. Army or the U.S. Air Force. When National Guard units are not mobilized or under federal control, they report to the governor of their respective state, territory (Puerto Rico, Guam, Virgin Islands) or the commanding general of the District of Columbia National Guard. Each of the 54 National Guard organizations is supervised by the adjutant general of the state or territory. Under state law, the National Guard provides protection of life and property and preserves peace, order and public safety. These missions are accomplished through emergency-relief support during natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes and forest fires; search and rescue operations; support to civil defense authorities; maintenance of vital public services and counter-drug operations. The National Guard’s federal mission is to maintain well-trained, well-equipped units available for prompt mobilization during war and provide assistance during national emergencies.

Since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the National Guard has transformed from a strategic reserve to a fully integrated operational force.The evolving role of the Guard has led to increased involvement in overseas operations and foreign aid missions, including in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, the Sinai, and many other locations across the globe. Today more than 50% of our Guardsmen have combat experience. With its increased involvement both domestically and overseas, the National Guard is a more ready, capable and rapidly deployable force than ever in our nation’s history and has proven that it is an affordable defense option for America.

Army National Guard

The Army National Guard(link is external) is comprised of 358,200 citizen-soldiers, including aviators, engineers, emergency first responders, truck drivers, mechanics, and legal professionals, just to name a few. In the past 13+ years at war, the Army National Guard has completed over a half-million soldier mobilizations in support of domestic operations and overseas missions. These soldiers exemplify a unique blend of civilian and military skills that enable the National Guard to conduct a wide spectrum of civil-military missions for a fraction of the cost of the active component. For 10% of the Army’s base budget, the Army National Guard provides 34% of the Army’s total personnel and 32% of its operating forces.

Air National Guard

The Air National Guard(link is external) was established as a separate reserve component on Sept. 18, 1947, when the Air Force was created. It is made up of more than 105,000 well-trained, well-equipped airmen available for prompt mobilization during war and to provide assistance during national emergencies, such as natural disasters or civil disturbances. Air Guardsmen support contingency operations across the world, including in Iraq and Syria, provide homeland defense through U.S. air space and aerospace control alert missions, assist U.S. Customs and Border Protection on our southwest border, and support America’s counter-drug program. The Air National Guard currently provides 19% of the Air Force’s total personnel and 35% of Air Force fighter, tanker and airlift capability for 6% of the cost.

Always ready and always there, the National Guard is also involved in cybersecurity, military-to-military partnerships through the State Partnership Program(link is external), the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program(link is external)(YRRP), National Guard Youth ChalleNGe(link is external), and Agribusiness Development Teams(link is external).