Tuesday, December 13, 2005

369th Birthday of the National Guard

Upon signing on to my account at USAA.Com this morning, I was greeted with an announcement that today, December 13th, is the 369th anniversary of the founding of the National Guard.

KC-97 Tanker at Pima Air Museum in Tucson Arizona - This is the type of plane that I flew

With a quick Google search I was able to learn that on December 13, 1636, the Massachusetts Bay Colony organized three regiments of militia to defend the colony against the growing attacks by the neighboring Pequot Indians. The order by the government of the colony required that all males between 16 and 60 years of age own a gun and be ready to defend the community against attacks.

The Pequot War that followed had its origins in the tensions that arose between the Pequots and the colonists as the Pequots found themselves increasingly squeezed as the English colonists of Massachusetts to the east expanded west and the Dutch colonists in New York on their west expanded east. A minor incident between a white trader and a small band of Pequots flared into a major territorial war. Failing to get other tribes to join them, the vastly outnumbered Pequots were soon vanquished and the tribe as an entity disappeared.

Thus began the American tradition of local militia. Nearly a century and a half later, our Founding Fathers maintained the tradition of a dual state and federal military for defense by making provision in the Constitution for the states to continue to maintain their militias. Up until the American Revolution, it was the local militias that defended the frontier against attack and it was the local militia that fought alongside the British army against the French during the French and Indian Wars. George Washington gained fame as a military leader while commanding the Virginia militia in the battle against Ft. Duquesne (site of modern Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). During the American Revolution it was the militia of the various colonies that provided the bulk of the troops that fought with the Congressionally created Continental Army commanded by George Washington in our fight for Independence from Great Britain. Following the American Revolution the armed forces of the U.S. were small most of the time and on state militia or, nowadays National Guard whenever we were forced to defend our freedom.

So, why did this notice interest me? Well, the reason USAA had the notice of the 369th anniversary of the birth of the National Guard on its website is its members are all current or former military personnel or their families. I joined USAA thirty some years ago when I was a newly minted second lieutenant attending the USAF Institute of Air Navigation at Mather, AFB in Sacramento, California. I had both a federal commission in the Air Force Reserve from Congress and a state commission from the state of Wisconsin in the Wisconsin Air National Guard.

I had been a cadet in the AFROTC during my senior year of college and was supposed to complete my ROTC training in graduate school. But when I accepted a teaching assistantship at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee which had Army but not Air Force ROTC I was forced to leave the ROTC program which immediately exposed me to the draft (the Vietnam War was in full force when I graduated in 1969).

I had been in the pilot training program in ROTC and when a fellow graduate student, who had recently left active duty as a navigator with the rank of captain and was then flying with the Air National Guard in Milwaukee, told me that, while they had a waiting list of people for enlisted, officer and pilot positions, the Air National Guard in Milwaukee short on navigators.

Pilots were the elite in the Air Force and they looked down upon navigators as mere map readers (we, of course, considered navigators to be the brains of the crew and the pilots mere monkeys who steered the plan in the direction we told them – but it was all in fun as we worked as a team in the air). Not being interested in a career in either aviation or the military and considering that my alternatives consisted of either spending the next couple of years navigating part time for the Air National Guard or finding myself ankle deep in mud as an infantryman in Vietnam, I chose to become a navigator.

I did my required military service with the 128th Air Refueling Group of the Wisconsin Air National Guard based at Mitchell Field (the Milwaukee Airport) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I had a good time and made a number of training flights to Florida and Germany navigating a Korean War vintage KC-97 tanker doing air refueling for fighter jets. I was fortunate to serve stateside and in Europe and my only encounter with the "enemy" occurred over international waters enroute to Iceland from Germany when we came out of a cloud bank at 30,000 feet flying in a northwest direction toward Keflavik AFB in Iceland. At the same time two Russian bear class bombers, enroute from Havana to Murmansk, came out of the same cloud bank heading northeast toward their base in Murmansk. Fortunately, they were about 500 feet below us so we avoided a collision. This was during the Cold War so neither of us bothered to tell the other where we planned to fly in international airspace. I am sure they were as surprised as we were but probably not as mad as we were. We were both being tracked by the nearby ground control at Keflavik which did not bother to alert us to the presence of the Russian bombers. After berating the person manning the tracking radar at Keflavik, from both the air and later on the ground, with language I will not print here, our pilot was given the lame excuse that the controller knew we were on a horizontal collision course but assumed we were separated vertically by a few thousand rather than a few hundred feet.

That is my link to the tradition and organization (like the Air Force which evolved out of the Army, the Air National Guard evolved from the Army National Guard) that is celebrating its 369th birthday today. My nephew, Sergeant James Nugent,who returned from a year's tour of duty in Iraq with the Wisconsin Army National Guard last month, is also a part of this tradition going back to 1636.

Links for Further Reading:

Founding of the National Guard

How to Become a Fighter Pilot With The Air National Guard

1 comment:

Bob said...

I enjoyed the article. Some people beleive there is a difference between local milita and the National Guard (State Malita). The National Guard is under the command of the Govenor and the Local Milita is a community orginized milita and is for the protection of the local community. It is this Milita that the 2nd Ammenednt addresses when it gives the Citizens the right ot own and bear arms.