A Word from the Chairman

By Myers, Richard B. | Joint Force Quarterly, December 2004 | Go to article overview

A Word from the Chairman


Myers, Richard B., Joint Force Quarterly


The U.S. way of organizing its military is commonly called the Total Force. This all-volunteer force is composed of citizen soldiers and active duty personnel. This mix gives the advantage of a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Both components are necessary, and they must work in harmony to achieve national objectives. In the near term, that means winning the global war on terrorism. In the long term, both the Reserve and the active components must transform to meet the threats of tomorrow. The key to both objectives is a healthy Total Force.

It is fitting that this issue of Joint Force Quarterly examines America's Reserve component--its rich history and the challenges it faces today.

History

America's Armed Forces evolved in fits and starts, with changing threats as the primary motivator for adaptation. Today's Total Force is the great grandchild of the colonial Militia, which began with the Massachusetts Militia in 1636. Colonists activated that force to defend the New England colonies and maintain internal lines of control and commerce. Colonial navies were traditionally militia as well.

The birth of the Nation, however, necessitated evolution. The New England militia fought at Lexington and Concord, the first engagements of the Revolutionary War, in April 1775. It won the Army's first battle streamer at Fort Ticonderoga in May 1775. It wasn't until a month later that the Continental Congress officially established the Continental Army.

The Constitution and Bill of Rights contained many clauses empowering the new Nation to create and maintain militia; to organize, train, and equip military forces and employ them in war; and to "provide for the common defense." This allowed a reconstituted Army, new ships, and a small standing Navy. The Federal Government retained control of the Army and Navy while the states controlled the militia until they were called up for Federal service. Then in 1792, the Militia Act reorganized the militia and articulated who would serve--men 18 to 45 years old. This act created rules for a compulsory militia, but volunteer militia units comprised the bulk of the American forces in the 19th century. This early period reminds us that our military tradition reflects a legacy of volunteerism and selfless neighbors--American citizens grabbing their muskets and heeding the call to arms to defend their liberties.

The War of 1812 was an early proof of concept for the Armed Forces: a small regular force supported by militia protecting the fledgling democracy. This principle differed from the European feature of larger and more powerful standing armies and navies that were also more costly.

There were many regional battles in the 19th century, including armed actions against pirates and a war with Mexico. But for the most part, leaders used the military primarily as a gendarmerie for internal stability. This domestic focus held throughout the westward expansion. After the Civil War, the states and the Federal Government examined the militia system and the balance between states' rights and national defense requirements. By 1892 each governor had renamed his state militia the National Guard.

In the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, Congress replaced the 1792 Militia Act with the 1903 Dick Act, bolstering the Reserve role of the National Guard. This was an important turning point; the militia were now formally recognized as the Army's wartime Reserve. Then in 1908, the Reserve Medical Corps became the first pool of officers in a "Reserve" status. This was the seed of the modern Reserve, with a force distinct from the state-led National Guards.

Other legislative acts in the first two decades of the 20th century helped the National Guard and Reserve evolve further. Congress created a Federal Naval Reserve in 1915, and in 1916 the Naval Reserve Appropriations Act created a Reserve Naval Flying Corps. The 1916 and 1920 National Defense Acts codified the National Guard, authorized drill pay and training days, and made the Guard a bureau. …

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