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Fort Leonard Wood celebrates the 373rd birthday of the National Guard
Fort Leonard Wood celebrates the 373rd birthday of the National Guard

Brig. Gen. Dave Enyeart, Maneuver Support Center of Excellence deputy commanding general-Army National Guard and assistant adjutant general for the Oregon National Guard, talks about the importance of celebrating the Guard's birthday Friday.
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (Dec. 14, 2009) — The post commander at Fort Leonard Wood helped wish the National Guard a happy 373rd birthday Friday during a cake-cutting ceremony at the Engineer Hall of Flags in the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence.

Maj. Gen. Gregg Martin called the Guard a national treasure.

“It’s the foundation of our nation’s defense,” Martin said. “The thing that really strikes me about the Guard is that it’s all about great people who are excellent citizens of our country. There’s the tradition of citizen-soldier embedded all the way from the top of the government down to the local community. Then in time of war, they go off and fight wherever the country needs them.”

Martin, who is from Massachusetts, said he understands the history of the Guard very well.

“They teach it to Massachusetts kids,” he said. “The Guard is just a tremendous powerhouse of national security. I’m proud to serve with you all as members of one Army team.”

During the festivities, Brig. Gen. Dave Enyeart, Maneuver Support Center of Excellence deputy commanding general for the Army National Guard and assistant adjutant general for the Oregon National Guard, said it was essential to celebrate the Guard’s birthday to recall its history.

“It’s important to remember where the National Guard comes from,” Enyeart said. “The National Guard was made up of citizen-soldiers 373 years ago and they are citizen-soldiers today. When the call comes, they drop down their plow, or whatever they are doing as a civilian, and they go forward.”

Enyeart said he was proud to see the Guard’s birthday celebrated on an active-Army post.

“It just shows the strength of the total force of the Army,” he said. “It shows the brotherhood and sisterhood of what the active-duty component is doing with the Guard. There are more National Guard soldiers going through the three schools here than any place else in the nation. We are just hand-in-hand, one team, one fight, and we’re all fighting for the same thing.”

At Fort Leonard Wood, the National Guard trains alongside its active counterparts in all three of the career fields represented, from basic combat and advanced individual training to advanced officer and noncommissioned officer training courses.

National Guard units represent 55 percent of total Engineer Corps strength, 37 percent of the Chemical Corps, and 50 percent of the Military Police Corps.

Lt. Col. Dave Harrell, National Guard Deputy assistant commandant with the Military Police School, emceed the event and said that it is important to recognize the Guard’s roots because what it stands for is as crucial to the country now as it has always been.

“The fundamental corps idea of why we are here has not changed dating back to 1636,” Harrell said. “The concept of being able to muster forces for security or against a particular threat is the same. It’s a crude colonial method, but that is still essentially how we do it today. We have to remember that’s how it all got started and that’s why we are here.”

The cake was traditionally cut with a junior and senior cutter representing the newest and most seasoned National Guard soldiers present on the installation.

The senior cake cutter was Sgt. Maj. Thomas Sznura, senior Army National Guard enlisted advisor to the deputy chief of staff on post, while the junior cake cutter was Pfc. Francisca Morales, of the Arizona National Guard.

Morales said she was thrilled to be a part of the ceremony.

“It’s a great honor to be part of the 373rd birthday and be a part of that long storied tradition,” said Morales, who is completing her advanced individual training with Company B, 84th Chemical Battalion here on post. “I’m star-struck as a private first class to be around a lot of generals and general officers. It’s amazing.”

The National Guard is the oldest component of the U.S. armed forces and one of the nation’s longest enduring institutions. The National Guard traces its history back to the earliest English colonies in North America, when on Dec. 13, 1636, three regiments of militia were formed in Massachusetts. Responsible for their own defense, the colonists drew on English military tradition and organized their able-bodied male citizens into units.

Today, these original units continue as the 181st Infantry Regiment, 182nd Cavalry Regiment and the 101st Engineer Battalion of the Massachusetts Army National Guard.

These are the oldest units in the U.S. Army and are among the world’s oldest military units.

During the Revolution, it was primarily the militias that fought the British at the battles of Bunker Hill, Cowpens, and Kings Mountain. They earned the grudging respect of the British regulars for their tenacity in battle and “uncanny marksmanship ability.”

The term “National Guard” was first used in the United States on Aug. 25, 1824, in New York by Marquis de Lafayette, a French patriot who fought alongside the militias against the British during the Revolution.

The honor guard for the French hero was made up of members of the 2nd Battalion, 11th New York Artillery.

The battalion voted to rename itself the “Battalion of National Guards” in tribute to Lafayette’s command of the Paris militia “Garde Nationale.”

It wasn’t until after the American Civil War that the state designations for units were dropped and the units renamed National Guard, when the National Defense Act of 1916 made the term mandatory.

The National Guard provided 158,000 troops for the patrol and protection of the borders along Mexico during 1916, when raids by Pancho Villia crossed into Columbus, N.M., and two smaller Texas towns.

Although not involved in direct combat, the training received was invaluable when the United States entered World War I just a year later.

More than 379,000 Guardsmen were called into service for combat overseas with the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe. Half of the Medals of Honor, 39 of 78, went to soldiers in National Guard divisions.

The Guard doubled the size of the regular Army when it was mobilized in 1940, more than a year before Pearl Harbor, and contributed 19 divisions to that war, as well as numerous other units including Guard aviation squadrons.

In fact, of the first five U.S. Army divisions to enter combat, four of them, the 32nd, 34th, 37th and the Americal Division were National Guard Divisions.

During the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion of Normandy, the 29th Infantry Division made up of National Guard units from Virginia, West Virginia and the Carolinas, stormed Omaha Beach and suffered horrendous casualties while it took all of its assigned objectives.

Following World War II, in 1947, National Guard aviation units, some of them which dated back to World War I, became the Air National Guard, and the nation's newest Reserve Component was born.

The Air Guard stood on the frontiers of freedom during the Cold War, sending aircraft and airmen to fight in Korea and to reinforce NATO during the Berlin crisis of 1961-1962.

More than 138,000 Army Guardsmen were mobilized for Korea, followed by numerous smaller mobilizations for the Berlin Crisis, Vietnam, and numerous strikes and riots at home.

Approximately 63,000 Army Guardsmen were called to serve in Desert Storm, and in the decade since then Guardsmen have seen a greater role than ever before - conducting peacekeeping in Somalia, Haiti, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, Bosnia and Kosovo.

Following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, more than 150,000 Guardsmen were called up by both their state and the federal government to provide security at home and combat terrorism abroad.

Today's National Guard continues its historic dual mission, providing the states with units trained and equipped to protect life and property, while providing the nation with units ready to defend the United States and its interests around the world.

National Guard units alone comprise the equivalent of one of the world’s largest armies with eight infantry divisions, seven heavy brigade combat teams, one Stryker brigade, eight combat aviation brigades, 10 medical evacuation battalions, two special forces groups, and numerous other functional brigades representing literally every career field in the U.S. Army.

The National Guard stands ready today as a full partner in the total Army and a first-line defense against domestic threats and natural disasters, as it has for its entire 373 year history, with the time proven motto of “Always Ready, Always There!”

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