WASHINGTON - The position of the chief of the National Guard Bureau has been elevated to a four-star billet 100 years after the bureau came into existence.

The chief of the National Guard Bureau also became a principal advisor to the secretary of defense through the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as a result of a Jan. 28 stroke of the president's pen that triggered the most sweeping changes for the National Guard in 100 years.

The Division of Militia Affairs, the precursor of the modern National Guard Bureau, came into existence in February 1908, according to Michael Doubler, Ph.D., a retired colonel who is one of the Guard's pre-eminent historians.

The first chief was Col. Erasmus Weaver, who served from 1908-11. The stature of the chief's office has been progressively increased during the century since.

On Jan. 28, President George W. Bush signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2008, which includes provisions that:

Aca,!Ac A bipartisan council of governors advise the secretary of defense, the Department of Homeland Security and others on National Guard matters.

Aca,!Ac The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff determines the feasibility of increasing the number of U.S. Northern Command reserve-component members.

Aca,!Ac Up to 15 reserve-component general officers serve at combatant commands, an increase from 10.

Aca,!Ac The National Guard Bureau becomes a joint activity of the Department of Defense. Previously, it was a joint bureau of the Army and the Air Force.

Aca,!Ac The chief of NGB becomes a principal advisor to the secretary of defense through the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Aca,!Ac The grade of the position of the chief of the NGB increases to a four-star general.

A driving force behind many of the changes in the NDAA is the transformation of the National Guard from a Cold War strategic reserve to today's operational reserve.

The vast bulk of the major reforms of the National Guard included in the bill were derived from the National Guard Empowerment Act of 2007 introduced in Congress by Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) and Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.)

The provisions of the NDAA that affect the National Guard are among many others that affect the nation's armed forces.

"The act authorizes funding for the defense of the United States and its interests abroad, for military construction and for national security-related energy programs," Bush stated.

The NDAA also:

Aca,!Ac Gives servicemembers a 3.5 percent pay raise.

Aca,!Ac Includes the Wounded Warrior Assistance Act to improve support for wounded troops and their families, including providing increased treatment closer to home rather than at the base from which the servicemember deployed.

Aca,!Ac Lowers the eligibility age for retirement by three months for each 90 days a Guard member serves on certain types of active duty. The active duty must be served after the NDAA was enacted, and eligibility cannot be reduced below 50 years of age.

Also in the NDAA:

Aca,!Ac $650 million authorized for miscellaneous equipment for the Army National Guard and $150 million for Air National Guard. Previously, National Guard and Reserve Equipment Appropriation money has been appropriated without authorization.

Aca,!Ac End strengths of 351,300 for the Army National Guard and 106,700 for the Air National Guard. The Army National Guard end strength increased from 350,000 while the Air Guard level is essentially unchanged. The secretary of defense can authorize the Guard to exceed end strength by up to 3 percent.

The NDAA does not authorize any additional weapons of mass destruction-civil support teams but instead refers the issue to an advisory panel to study.

(The Day of New London, Conn., the National Guard Bureau's Office of Legislative Liaison and other sources contributed to this report along with Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill who writes for the National Guard Bureau.)