By Donna Miles, American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON - The National Guard celebrated its 368th birthday on Dec. 13, 2004 with its members focused more closely on homeland defense than the four Massachusetts militia units that stood up on Dec. 13, 1638, might ever have imagined.

The Chief of the National Guard Bureau - Army Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum - called the Guard's role supporting the war on terror, homeland defense and homeland security a case of “back to the future,” but with a sophisticated twist. It's a role Blum said the Guard is eminently suited for, because it's already forward deployed nationwide, in every state and territory, “where people live, work, worship, play and go to school.”

“We come from the homeland,” Blum said. “We have our units dispersed all over the country in 3,500 different locations. You can't drive 25 miles in any direction in a populated area without running into a National Guard armory.” This, Blum said, makes the National Guard “your first military responders” to any emergency. If something goes wrong, it is always going to be local,” he said. “Even 9/11 was very local although it became a national event very quickly. But it was very local to Manhattan, very local to the Pentagon, and very local to the field in Pennsylvania.”

During those attacks, he said the National Guard demonstrated the same “Minuteman” response exhibited by its forefathers in the fledgling Massachusetts militia, who defended their settlement and colony against attack. Within 24 hours of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Blum said, 8,600 members of the New York National Guard responded to the World Trade Center site, most without military orders. “They didn't get mobilized. They didn't go to mobilization stations. They went right to the problem and started dealing with it, restoring confidence and security, reducing suffering and saving lives and property.”

A similar situation played out at the Pentagon, where the first military responders from outside the Pentagon were members of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia National Guards. In addition, the Air National Guard flew 90 percent of the first 400 combat air patrols flown over every major city in the United States within the first 24 hours of the attack. In more than three years since the attacks, Blum said the Air National Guard continues to fly 90 percent of the county's air combat missions in defense of the homeland.

“How can you call yourself something like the National Guard and not take the defense of the nation as your mission No. 1?” Blum asked. “This is our No. 1 priority, our No. 1 focus, and our No. 1 mission.” He said the Guard provides “tremendous capabilities” to U.S. Northern Command, including situational awareness capabilities, intelligence and information feeds, and chemical-biological and weapons of mass destruction response force packages as needed. Guard members also provide a forward- deployed command and control apparatus and joint logistics base in every U.S. state and territory, he said.

“As part of this expanded role, the Guard has established standing, joint-force headquarters in every state and territory to coordinate military plans and responses to terrorist acts. These elements aim “to detect, defeat and deter terrorist acts - and if that fails, to respond in an appropriate fashion,” Blum said. “As it transforms itself to better meet the country's future homeland defense requirements,” he continued, “the National Guard is playing a critical role in missions its forefathers in the Massachusetts colony probably never envisioned: national defense overseas.”

“Some 100,000 citizen-soldiers and airmen are deployed overseas in 44 countries, and they make up 34 percent of the U.S. force in Iraq. So we're not only defending the nation here at home, but we defend the nation in depth overseas,” supporting combatant commanders worldwide,” he noted.

“After 368 years, the National Guard has built a strong legacy and proven that it's always ready and is always there - be it in Boston Harbor, Yorktown, or in Kabul or Baghdad,” Blum concluded. “That's been our legacy since Day 1. When did the government ever call up the Guard and it didn't show? Never! And when they showed up, they got the job done!”