National Guard Prepares to Celebrate 372nd Birthday

By Renee Hylton
Special to American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., Dec. 12, 2008 - The United States is a young country, but four of the oldest military organizations in the world are in the country's National Guard.

The National Guard celebrates its 372nd birthday tomorrow. On Dec. 13, 1636, the Massachusetts Bay Colony divided its citizen-soldiers, or militia, into the North, South and East regiments.

The Massachusetts Bay colony was seven years old in 1636. About 5,000 men, women, and children had made the two-month voyage to the New World, leaving behind the relative comfort and safety of England. In Massachusetts, they confronted a wilderness of dense forests, wild animals and suspicious Indians.

The colonists needed a military force for protection, but they had no money to hire a mercenary army, which was common practice in Europe at the time. So they turned to the English tradition of the militia -- citizen-soldiers who gathered for military training and who could fight when needed.

In Massachusetts, all able-bodied men between ages 16 and 60, except ministers and judges, were required to join the militia. By 1636, the Massachusetts Bay Colony militia was large enough to be divided into three separate regiments.

Today, the military lineage of these regiments from 1636 is carried on by the 101st Engineer Battalion, the 101st Field Artillery, the 181st Infantry and the 182nd Cavalry, which are all still part of the Massachusetts Army National Guard. These four units, in one form or another, have been in continuous service since 1636, and are the oldest units in the U.S. Army.

Much has changed in this country since 1636, but one thing has not: citizen-soldiers still gather to train and deploy as they have for 372 years.

(Renee Hylton works in the National Guard Bureau.)

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