Volunteer Military Organizations: An Overlooked
With the current operations tempo for Federal
forces, the availability of manpower for homeland security is a
major concern. Today's missions are full spectrum: traditional operations
in Iraq and Afghanistan, peacekeeping in the Balkans and the Sinai,
and defense support to civil authorities in hurricanes Katrina and
President George W. Bush's National Security
Strategy makes it clear that "defending our Nation against
its enemies is the first and fundamental commitment of the Federal
Government."1 With the gradual
reduction in force and increased deployments, however, commanders
are asked to do more with less. As troops engage in overseas operations,
for example, they are tasked with additional short-notice contingencies
that further exacerbate the problem.
Given the needs of the Department of Homeland
Security and U.S. Northern Command, the increased use of National
Guard and Reserve units, and the many and varied asymmetrical threats
confronting the Nation since 9/11, it is questionable whether sufficient
forces will be available.2 Therefore,
a serious study of expanding the use of legitimate volunteer military
organizations is long overdue.
These groups are not new in America and are
divided into state and Federally sponsored organizations. State-sponsored
organizations include State Defense Forces (SDFs) and Naval Militias,
while elements such as the U.S. Air Force Civil Air Patrol and the
Coast Guard Auxiliary are sponsored by the Armed Forces.
From the colonial period through the early
20th century, militia or volunteer units shouldered much of the
responsibility for national defense since the regular, or full-time,
U.S. military was comparatively small. Militia units augmenting
Active forces sufficed until the Spanish-American War in 1898.3
As the 20th century dawned and the United States became increasingly
involved in overseas operations, decision makers began to reassess
the capabilities of such units.
Several pieces of landmark legislation were
passed to enhance the militia (for example, the Dick Act of 1903
and the National Defense Act of 1916). Through this legislation,
the organized militia was renamed the National Guard, given the
official role of America's second line of defense, and provided
Federal funds for training and equipment. Consequently, the Federal
Government had a better-trained and more capable militia at the
beginning of the 20th century than ever before.4
Federal service was quickly tested as most
National Guard units were mobilized for the Mexican border campaign
in 1916, and then all were activated for World War I. However, the
prior legislation was a curse and a blessing. With the entire National
Guard deployed, states were ill prepared for either self-defense
or response to natural or manmade contingencies.
But the mobilization of the National Guard
for World War I was not an insurmountable problem because 34 states
organized Home Guard or State Guard units as replacements, allowed
under Section 61 of the National Defense Act of 1916. These volunteer
units used prior service personnel (Spanish- American War and Civil
War veterans) as training cadre, performing duties mostly in a nonpay
status. For example, well-trained Home Guard units from Connecticut
and Massachusetts provided valuable manpower, transportation, and
medical assets during the Spanish influenza outbreak in 1918.5
Texas also organized State Guard cavalry and infantry regiments
to patrol the Mexican border. In all, State Guard units provided
an additional 79,000 troops for state duty; however, they were never
called up for combat operations in World War I and were quickly
disbanded after the Armistice.6
Volunteer military organizations were especially
important early in World War II. As with our British colleagues,
every available resource was used due to the huge mobilization effort,
including Home or State Guard units and the fledgling Coast Guard
Auxiliary and Army Air Force Civil Air Patrol. These latter two
elements represented a phenomenon not seen before: volunteer military
organizations sponsored by Federal branches of the U.S. military.
Nonetheless, World War II represented a high-water mark for the
use of voluntary military bodies, particularly the Home or State
By the fall of 1940, all National Guard units
were again called to Federal service. Recognizing the impending
dilemma, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the State Guard
Act on October 21, 1940.7 Consequently,
Home Guard units, composed of retired or prior service personnel,
were again mobilized in all but four states. They were charged with
protecting critical infrastructure sites under the direction of
each state adjutant general.
Additionally, the Coast Guard Auxiliary and
the Army Air Corps Civil Air Patrol provided value-added assets
in the event of either prolonged air or amphibious attacks by submarine.
As recently released archives prove, the Axis powers considered
both concepts. Regardless, both state and Federal volunteer military
organizations were valuable assets. In fact, the Civil Air Patrol
was credited with sinking several German U-boats, and the Coast
Guard Auxiliary rescued hundreds of stranded sailors.
While there are differences between present
operations and those in World War II, there are also similarities.
During the 2005 flood season, a substantial portion of the Louisiana
Army National Guard was unavailable, so state and Federal assets
from neighboring states were used in disaster recovery. In addition,
the Coast Guard Auxiliary, Civil Air Patrol, and at least five states
contributed their State Defense Forces to the relief effort, and
all indications are that the volunteers were effective. Thus, to
prepare for future contingencies, regardless of location, the increased
use of volunteer military organizations seems a common sense approach
to provide additional capable assets.
Civilian Authority Support
Since homeland security is the major focus
of volunteer military organizations, missions may include meeting
domestic emergencies, assisting civil authorities in preserving
order, guarding critical industrial sites, preventing or suppressing
subversive activities, and cooperating with Federal authorities.
For example, when National Guard units are
mobilized, SDFs often assume control of their armories and assist
with their mobilization.8 The Alaskan
SDF also routinely provides security for the Alaskan pipeline and
the harbors of Anchorage and Whittier, using four armed patrol craft.
With an instructor cadre of current or former state troopers, graduates
of the Alaskan SDF Military Police Academy have the same credentials
as Alaskan state troopers. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks,
Albany utilized the New York Guard Army Division's Military Police
Brigade as perimeter and infrastructure security at Camp Smith and
within New York City. Similarly, Air Force SDFs in Texas and New
York routinely augment base security forces along with assisting
in administrative duties. In addition to the Coast Guard Auxiliary,
Naval Militias add another dimension to state-sponsored volunteer
military organizations, providing waterborne patrol assets for security
With many retired or former National Guard
personnel in their ranks, SDF assets represent an experienced force
knowledgeable in local and state emergency operations policies and
procedures. The Louisiana SDF, for instance, provides a team of
Soldiers as desk officers for each county emergency operations center,
consisting of subject matter experts in operations and logistics.
Being an integral part of the Georgia Department of Defense, the
Georgia SDF was also active during hurricanes Katrina and Rita and
provided desk officers for the National Guard Joint Emergency Operations
Center at Dobbins Air Force Base near Atlanta. Local volunteer organizations
are indigenous to the area and therefore more effective than contract
Today's volunteer military organizations also
provide manpower and specialized expertise as several SDFs have
robust search and rescue, medical, religious, legal, and weapons
of mass destruction (WMD) naval and air capabilities. SDF search
and rescue capabilities vary from state to state but routinely include
emergency medical technicians and enhanced search capabilities such
as horses and fixed- wing aircraft. The Tennessee SDF, for example,
with former Special Forces and Ranger members, has a robust search
and rescue organization somewhat modeled after a Special Forces
"A" team. Its members include licensed paramedics, civilian
structural engineers, and communications specialists, all both airborne
and scuba qualified, as well as a canine section.
Several SDFs have privately owned fixed-wing
aircraft detachments in their force structure. Virginia uses its
aircraft extensively as drones for WMD scenarios and assists the
Virginia Fish and Game Commission by flying reconnaissance missions
over the Shenandoah Valley. While predominantly a ceremonial organization,
the Connecticut SDF has occasionally used its cavalry detachment
for cross- country search and rescue missions.
The Georgia SDF shares robust chemical, biological,
radiological, and nuclear and explosives capabilities with the Centers
for Disease Control and several hospitals in the Atlanta area. The
force has acquired the skills of chemists, medical doctors, and
other professionals to fashion an organization to advise, assist,
and train with the specialized Georgia National Guard Weapons of
Mass Destruction Civil Support Team.9
Alternatives to Service
The expanded use of volunteer military organizations
provides an opportunity for increasing numbers of citizens to serve
in a less demanding military environment than the Federal Active
or Reserve military. Of those who enter the Active military, 14
percent leave during the first 6 months and over 30 percent before
their first term is complete. Reasons for this attrition include
inadequate medical and preentry drug screening. Moreover, recruits
fail to perform adequately because they are in poor physical condition
for basic training or lack motivation.10
Routinely, State Guard units during World War II took advantage
of National Guard discharges from Active service due to stringent
physical standards associated with overseas deployments. Approximately
3,400 National Guardsmen were discharged prior to deployment, providing
trained resources capable of State Guard service.11
Professionals in the legal and medical fields
who desire continued service are finding SDF organizations particularly
attractive. As doctors and lawyers often have their own practices
or are part of small consortiums, the prospect of an extended deployment
as part of a Federal force represents a significant loss of income,
if not bankruptcy. Participation in an SDF represents a viable alternative,
as units are designed strictly for state service and are not subject
Border Security Issues
The U.S. Border Patrol, part of the U.S. Customs
and Border Protection Service, is responsible for detecting, interdicting,
and apprehending those who attempt to enter the United States illegally
or smuggle people or contraband, including weapons of mass destruction,
across U.S. borders. These boundaries include official ports of
entry in 20 sectors of the United States, both on the northern border
with Canada (4,000-5,000 miles long) and the southern border with
Mexico (over 2,000 miles long). Illegal immigration has received
increased attention. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner
Robert Bonner stated that some 10,800 agents currently are in the
field, and the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol is exploring the use
of volunteer organizations as augmentation.
In April 2005, a volunteer civic organization,
the "Minutemen," conducted a monthlong surveillance along
the Arizona-Mexico border. These volunteers from various parts of
the United States provided an "extra set of eyes" to the
Customs and Border Patrol. Commissioner Bonner reported that the
Minutemen facilitated the apprehension of over 300 illegal immigrants
with no incidents or threats of vigilantism. The Minutemen were
observers only and reported illegal crossings to the Border Patrol
Since all land SDFs are strictly state organizations,
their operating budgets are comparatively minimal. Moreover, today's
volunteers receive no pay or allowances for training and drill attendance,
and, unless called to state Active duty, mission support is also
conducted in a nonpay status. Even when called to state Active duty,
SDF personnel are paid a rate that is often not commensurate with
normal pay for a Federal force, depending on rank.
During 2002, for example, the Georgia SDF contributed
more than 1,797 days of operational service, saving the state $1.5
million. In 2001, their service saved over $754,000.13
During the 9/11 crisis, the 244th Medical Detachment of the New
York Guard provided medical services not available from other organizations
and saved the state $400,000.14 These
are a few examples that prove that expanding the use of volunteer
military organizations is economically attractive. Since SDFs possess
little equipment, overhead costs are relatively small. Table 1 provides
a comprehensive list of SDFs and their funding levels.
While attractive, expanding the use of SDFs
requires resolving several issues, such as the lack of Federal recognition
of state- sponsored volunteer military organizations. Although SDFs
were designed for state service, the lack of Federal recognition
has other effects. First, current laws prohibit SDFs from purchasing
excess Federal field equipment of all types, such as uniforms, affecting
unit morale. Second, SDFs lack an active authoritative command and
control headquarters to provide strategic direction on unit types,
table of distribution and allowances, readiness reporting, missions,
training, and personnel policies. Standardizing policies and procedures
is essential to ensure interoperability with other state or Federal
agencies. Although the National Guard Bureau is the DOD executive
agent for SDFs, and though National Guard Regulation 10-4 provides
guidelines, the regulation lacks authoritative language to ensure
Most World War II State Guard units, for instance,
were modeled after either a light infantry or military police organization.
Today, some SDFs mirror that traditional structure, yet there is
substantial derivation of unit types that demonstrates a strategic
lack of interest. Conversely, the Coast Guard Auxiliary and Air
Force Civil Air Patrol are well established and seemingly enjoy
a better working relationship with their parent Federal service.
They do not appear to suffer from the same fickleness of state politics
that affects SDFs and Naval Militias. As state entities, and if
allowed to exist at all, SDFs and Naval Militias function at the
behest of each Governor and often are stifled by being at the mercy
of the state adjutant general, a political appointee.
As demonstrated by the 2002 anthrax attacks
against domestic targets, the ease of WMD acquisition causes constant
questioning of whether sufficient manpower exists to defend against
attacks. Information technology tampering is also a concern and
is increasingly difficult to locate and eradicate. The importance
of information technology cannot be overstated, as threats to computer
security are a great concern. Again, questions regarding sufficient
numbers of trained personnel are voiced at every level.
The lack of codified missions and unit types
impacts SDF doctrine and training. It is essential to have a clearly
established universal task list, approved mission-essential task
list, and associated doctrine. To date, all 23 SDF organizations
offer military training courses but are without established standards.
For example, the Tennessee SDF's basic noncommissioned officer and
basic officer courses are approved through the U.S. Army Training
and Doctrine Command at Fort Monroe, Virginia. Courses offered by
the New York Guard Army Division are also well organized and designed
by former non- resident Army Reserve instructors. However, SDFs
are prohibited from participating in some nonresident training (for
example, the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort
Leavenworth, Kansas).16 To educate
their officers, then, states such as California and Georgia enroll
their personnel in the U.S. Marine Corps Command and General Staff
Due to the homeland security focus of SDFs,
another training venue is the Federal Emergency Management Agency
(FEMA) Web site. In fact, several states require FEMA courses as
a prerequisite for promotion. Again, however, no standards exist
to ensure a base level of education in military support to civilian
authority subjects. Table 2 provides a comprehensive list of military
courses that SDFs offer.
Volunteer military organizations are older
than the United States itself and have proven themselves time and
again. Their infrastructure already exists, and the process works
despite political pressures. With the growing concern for securing
the homeland, common sense should be applied to use these assets
to their fullest extent. To do so, several actions are recommended.
Current laws must be changed to grant Federal
recognition to state-sponsored SDFs. Denying volunteer access to
basic equipment and necessities makes little sense. Also, the lack
of Federal recognition impacts the ability to tap into existing
nonresident military courses.
Since SDFs and several Naval Militias are strictly
state supported, partial Federal funding should be initiated through
the National Guard Bureau and the planning, programming, and budgeting
system. Some civilian organizations (for example, the Citizen Corps
and the USA Freedom Corps) already have access to Federal funding,
and all legitimate volunteer military organizations should enjoy
the same privilege. Trained volunteer organizations provide manpower
and professional services that permit Federal forces to concentrate
on other critical areas.
As the DOD agent for SDFs, the National Guard
should be more proactive in providing guidance in conjunction with
the Department of the Army and each adjutant general. Standardization
would add further legitimacy to these organizations. Moreover, the
National Guard Bureau should have an office staff to handle SDF
matters that cannot be accomplished as an additional duty.
While volunteer military organizations present
challenges, evidence suggests that their expanded use makes sense
for several reasons. First, with the current high operations tempo,
trained Federal forces are at a premium. By actively supporting
volunteer military organizations, especially State Defense Forces,
Governors have an alternative to provide a trained force at least
in cadre strength.
Currently, SDF units operate in 22 states and
Puerto Rico, with another handful maintaining a volunteer Naval
Militia in addition to Coast Guard Auxiliary and Air Force Civil
Air Patrol units nationwide. A volunteer force costs much less to
maintain than a Federal force and provides trained personnel for
In the case of SDFs, their organization and
use have too often been an afterthought. From the Mexican border
expedition through the Korean War, and from the bombing of Pearl
Harbor to the 9/11 attacks, State and Home Guard use has been a
last-minute reaction to unexpected circumstances. With today's increase
in asymmetric warfare, exploring the use of all existing force structures
and expanding volunteer military organizations and SDFs are steps
in the right direction.
1. The National Security Strategy
of the United States of America September 2002 (Washington, DC:
The White House, Executive Summary).
2. For more details,
see Citizen Corps, available at <citizencorps.gov/about.shtm>.
3. Edmund Zysk, "Stay
Behind Forces for the National Guard, Soldiers or Policemen?"
unpublished thesis, U.S. Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, PA,
May 1, 1988, 3.
4. Ibid., 13.
5. "U.S. Home Defense
Forces Study," Department of Defense, Historical Research and
Evaluation Organization, Washington DC, April 27, 1981, 22.
6. Barry M. Stentiford,
The American Home Guard: The State Militia in the Twentieth Century
(College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2002), 51.
7. Zysk, 7.
8. Department of the
Army, National Guard Bureau Regulation 10-4, Washington, DC, September
21, 1987, 3.
9. Kathi Heaton, National
Guard Bureau, "National Guard Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil
Support Teams Overview and Update," Information Paper, September
Attrition: DOD Could Save Millions by Better Screening Enlisted
Personnel," GAO/ NSIAD-97-39, January 6, 1997, available at
11. Stentiford, 94.
12. David W. Fairbanks,
Virginia State Defense Force, interview by author, October 20, 2003.
13. Ibid., 3.
14. After Action Review,
Headquarters, Army Division, 244th Clinic, New York Guard, January
15. Department of
16. Michael Turner,
Chief, Non-Resident Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth,
KS, interview by author, June 29, 2003.
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