LATHAM, NY--Soldiers and Airmen from the state that first used the term National Guard for its militia forces celebrated the Guard's 381st birthday with a cake cutting ceremony at New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs headquarters here on Wednesday, Dec. 13.
Major General Ray Shields, the commander of the New York Army National Guard, joined New York Air National Guard Chief Master Sgt. Michael Blake, age 58, and New York Army National Guard Specialist Jade Richards, age 19, in cutting a National Guard Birthday cake.
Blake, the oldest Guards man present represented the history of the National Guard, while Richards, represented its future.
"This ceremony is a great way to remember the history of the National Guard and to mark the sacrifices that have been made during that history," Shields explained.
As part of the ceremony shields congratulated four new Army National Guard recruits on their enlistment and presented them with a coin.
"These young men and women, and all of our Soldiers and Airmen and civilians are the most valuable resource we have in the National Guard," Shields said.
He also called for a moment of silence to remember New York Army National Guard Spec. Joseph Nelk, who died of apparent natural causes on Sunday while deployed in support of a NATO training missing in Ukraine.
For Blake, who has 39 years of military service under his belt, it was a "a little disconcerting being recognized as one of the oldest members of the Guard."
Blake served in the Marine Corps from 1977 to 1985. He joined the New York Air National Guard in 1986 to help pay for college.
Since 1987 he's worked as a full time military technician at the 109th Airlift Wing, based at Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia, N.Y. A resident of Ballston Spa, N.Y., Blake currently serves as maintenance group superintendent.
He'll retire from his technician job in January 2018, but intends on staying on as a traditional Guardsman until he turns 60 in 2019. "It's been a great run," Blake said.
Richards, a resident of Watervliet, N.Y. enlisted in 2015. She is assigned to the signal company of the 42nd Infantry Division headquarters in Troy, N.Y. as a signal support specialist. She works as a full-time military technician in the New York National Guard's logistics director.
"It's a real honor representing the lower enlisted, "Richards said. She's enjoyed her National Guard service and is looking forward to more, "Richards said.
The National Guard traces its official foundation back to Dec. 13, 1636 when General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed a law establishing formal militia companies in the colony. These companies were made up of all adult males older than 16 and were expected to meet and train in military skills regularly.
The New York National Guard can trace its history back to 1640 when the Dutch East Indian Company, which then controlled what would become New York, created a force of citizen soldiers known as the Burgher Guard, or citizen's guard.
The members of the Burgher Guard were expected to assist the regular Soldiers employed by the East Indian Company to defend New Amsterdam from hostile natives or the English who were settling in Massachusetts and Virginia.
Members of the Burgher Guard were expected to maintain a firelock musket and report to the fort at the tip of Manhattan Island if a cannon sounded. They could also be fined for speaking badly about a fellow militia member.
After New Amsterdam became the English colony of New York in 1665, a militia modeled on the system used in Massachusetts and other English colonies was put in place.
New York gave the country the term National Guard for its militia forces when the 2nd Battalion, 11th Regiment of the New York Militia renamed themselves the National Guard to honor the Marquis de Lafayette, a hero of the American Revolutionary War.
Lafayette had commanded a force of French citizen soldiers called "Guard de National" in the early days of the French Revolution.
He was visiting Manhattan in 1824 and the name change was made for the day to honor the hero.
During the Civil War, New York officially changed the name of the New York State Militia to the New York National Guard.
Today there are 10,300 members of the New York Army National Guard and 5,800 Airmen in the New York Air National Guard.
Other highlights from New York National Guard History include:
• The 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry was portrayed in the 1940 movie "The Fighting 69th" starring Jimmy Cagney and Pat O'Brien. The movie was based on the historic unit's service in World War I as part of the 42nd "Rainbow" Division.
• The New York Army National Guard's 42nd Infantry Division was given its nickname "The Rainbow Division" during World War I by General Douglas MacArthur. MacArthur, then a colonel, was charged with organizing a division of National Guard troops from across the country to deploy to France in 1917. He described the division-which had units from 26 states-- as reaching across the country "like a rainbow."
• The band of the New York National Guard's 369th Infantry Regiment, an African American unit originally formed as the 15th New York, is credited with introducing jazz music to Europe during World War I. The 369th became known as the Harlem Hell Fighters.
• The oldest Air National Guard unit in the nation is part of the New York Air National Guard. The 102nd Rescue Squadron of the 106th Rescue Wing traces its history back to the 1st Aero Company organized in the New York National Guard in 1908 as a balloon unit.
• The Soldiers of the New York National Guard's 105th Infantry Regiment faced the largest Japanese "Banzai" attack of the Second World War on 7 July 1944 on the Island of Saipan. The 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 105th Infantry had 650 men killed and wounded but killed more than 4,300 Japanese Soldiers. Three regimental Soldiers earned the Medal of Honor posthumously in that battle that day.
• The New York Air National Guard's 138th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, based at Syracuse, was one two Air National Guard units assigned to provide aircraft for the defense of the United States on March 1, 1953. Today the unit operates the MQ-9 remotely piloted aircraft.
• The New York National Guard's 42nd Infantry Division served in Iraq in 2005 and was the first National Guard division headquarters to deploy to a combat zone since the Korean War in 1953.