GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — New York National Guard Soldiers deployed to Germany to help train Ukrainian soldiers celebrated the National Guard’s 386th birthday on Dec. 13.
Sgt. 1st Class Raul Llopis, 54, a unit supply specialist, and Spc. Catherina Ma, 21, a combat medic — both assigned to Task Force Orion of the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team — carried on the Army tradition of a unit’s oldest and youngest Soldiers cutting a birthday cake together with a ceremonial sword.
“The National Guard birthday is important because it’s the beginning,” said Col. William Murphy, commander of Task Force Orion. “It aligns with the beginning of our nation. It aligns with ordinary citizens standing up for what’s right and what’s just.”
The National Guard’s history dates to Dec. 13, 1636, when the first militia regiments in North America formed in Massachusetts.
An order of the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s General Court organized three permanent regiments to defend the colony. The descendants of these first regiments — the 181st Infantry, the 182nd Infantry, the 101st Field Artillery and the 101st Engineer Battalion of the Massachusetts Army National Guard — share the distinction of being the oldest units in the U.S. military.
With more than three and a half centuries of history, the National Guard is the oldest component of the U.S. armed forces and one of the oldest active military organizations in the world still in operation.
“Serving in an organization that is 386 years old means to me that there is a lot of legacy that needs to be kept,” Llopis said. “We, as Soldiers, need to represent all those values that have been alive for so long.”
The 445,000 Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen serving in today’s National Guard in all 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia bring a diversity of experience from all walks of life and civilian careers.
“Serving in my community means I have a greater sense of purpose, that there are people out there who support me, and I’m here supporting them, as well,” Ma said.
In just the last month in New York, 130 Guard Soldiers and Airmen deployed domestically to dig residents out of a historic snowstorm.
Seven hundred were deployed to New York City to help manage the inflow of migrants seeking asylum.
Seven hundred more were on duty as part of the state’s Joint Task Force Empire Shield, augmenting homeland security in the New York metropolitan area.
Air Guardsmen assigned to the Eastern Air Defense Sector worked around the clock, protecting the eastern United States.
In the past 20 years, the National Guard has shifted from being the nation’s strategic military reserve to an operational reserve and a critical part of deployed forces during the longest period of armed conflict in U.S. history.
Task Force Orion is one of the many Guard units currently serving overseas.
The unit’s more than 140 Soldiers deployed to Germany in early August to support the Joint Multinational Training Group – Ukraine mission to ensure the combat effectiveness of Ukrainian military personnel training on systems and equipment issued under the U.S. Presidential Drawdown Authority.
Almost 1,800 New York National Guard Soldiers are deployed to the Horn of Africa and the Middle East, and 430 Airmen are deployed in Antarctica and elsewhere.
The National Guard also maintains 87 relationships with 95 nations through its State Partnership Program, including New York’s partnerships with Brazil and South Africa.
“You’re adding a capability and a capacity that we on the active component simply can’t do. You’re building relationships and you’re touching people in a way that we simply can’t touch,” said Brig. Gen. Joseph Hilbert, commander of 7th Army Training Command, and Task Force Orion’s deployed higher headquarters.
In a speech to the task force’s Soldiers, Murphy thanked them and explained that the birthday is not just about a number and a cake.
“It’s reminding us that a community of people stood up, and they took all the skills and abilities they had within their communities and brought it forward to make the world a better place,” he said. “The same thing [they] did back then is the same thing that we’re doing today.”