State Defense Forces

State Defense Forces

State Defense Forces (SDF) (also known as State Guards, State Military Reserves, or State Militias) in the United States are military units that operate under the sole authority of a state government, although they are regulated by the National Guard Bureau through the Army National Guard of the United States. [cite web
url =
title = NGR 10-4
accessdate = 2006-11-24
date = 10/01/1987
work = National Guard Regulation
publisher = Department of the Army
] State Defense Forces are authorized by state and federal law and are under the command of the governor, asState Defense Forces are distinct from their state's National Guard in that they cannot become federal entities (all National Guard units can be federalized under the National Defense Act of 1933) with the creation of the National Guard of the United States. The federal government recognizes State Defense Forces under UnitedStatesCode|32|109 which provides that State Defense Forces as a whole may not be called up, ordered into service for the armed forces of the United States, thus preserving their separation from the National Guard. However, UnitedStatesCode|32|109 further states that individual members of the state defense force are not exempt from service in the armed forces allowing individuals to be conscripted or volunteer for service into the armed forces.

Although every state has laws authorizing State Defense Forces, approximately twenty-five states, in addition to Puerto Rico, currently have active State Defense Forces, each with different levels of activity, state support, and strength. SDFs generally operate with emergency management and homeland security missions. Most SDFs are organized as Army units, but Air Force and Maritime units also exist.Fact|date=July 2008


From its founding until the early 1900s, the United States maintained only a minimal army and relied on state militias to supply the majority of its troops. In 1903, the predecessor to the modern-day National Guard was formed to augment the militia and Regular Army with a federally controlled reserve force. In 1933, Congress finalized the split between the National Guard and the State Defense Force by mandating that all federally-funded soldiers take a dual enlistment/commission and thus enter both the state National Guard (Title 32) and the National Guard of the United States (Title 10). This division forced states to maintain both a National Guard and a State Defense Force if they desired to have non-federal soldiers. During World War II, much of the National Guard was deployed on federal duty. Many states continued to maintain distinct state militias (some building on ones that never ceased to exist) to defend their own territories and shorelines.Fact|date=July 2008

A new emphasis was placed on State Defense Forces in the 1980s, at the height of the Cold War. State Defense Forces were seen as a civil defense force in the event of a war with the Soviet Union where all National Guard units would be called up and presumably sent overseas.Fact|date=July 2008

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, many SDFs saw a reduction in support and interest from states. However, with the recent emphasis on homeland security due to the September 11 attacks, SDFs are receiving new attention at the state and the federal levels as a trained corps of responders that can be called upon to assist authorities in the event of major emergencies. State defense forces have been called upon to carry out such varied missions as helping to provide unarmed security during the G8 summit at Sea Island, Georgia in 2004 and assisting in the aeromedical evacuation of victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.Fact|date=July 2008


Many states organize their State Defense Force in parallel to their National Guard force (both Air and Army), having it report to the governor through the adjutant general. State Defense Forces are usually not funded by the federal government in any way. In most states, members act on a completely volunteer basis, have to purchase their own uniforms and most, if not all, of their own equipment.Fact|date=July 2008

Because many members of State Defense Forces are veterans who have retained ranks received from Federal armed service, some State Defense Forces may appear to have an inflated grade structure. Advocates reply that the grades worn by State Defense Force members accurately reflect the many years of experience that veterans (often military or naval retirees) bring to the state forces. Frequently, those receiving state issued ranks use the two-letter state abbreviation in parenthesis after their rank to indicate the origin of their grade. For example, a major in the California State Military Reserve would give her rank as "MAJ (CA)." However, numerous states do not require this notation due to the fact that many senior commissioned and non-commissioned individuals acquired their rank while serving at the Federal level.Fact|date=July 2008

While in the past many State Defense Forces were organized as military police brigades or infantry brigades, the experiences of recent events such as Hurricane Katrina has changed attitudes and plans. Civil Affairs units and medical units now predominate in some states. Organization levels may be inflated: a battalion may have less than 100 members, and a State Defense Force brigade may have less than 300 soldiers. Advocates of State Defense Forces argue that organizational inflation is typical of "cadre" units and that ranks would be quickly filled in war time as citizens ineligible or unwilling to serve in Federal units would instead enlist in State Defense Force units.


Training standards vary widely. In most states, the SDF is unarmed. Most SDF's lack the training standards to be armed, and state legislators have long feared legal consequences for arming an under trained force. However there are exceptions. Notably, the 49th Military Police Brigade of the Alaska State Defense Force is a fully deputized, armed police force. A study by the U.S. Freedom Foundation [ [ US Freedom Foundation - Home ] ] in 2006 recommended minimum standards for state defense forces including weapons training, but the report has been largely ignored.

The Military Emergency Management Specialist (MEMS) qualification created by the State Guard Association of the US (SGAUS) [ [ State Guard Association of the United States, Inc ] ] has quickly become the single common training focal point among State Defense Forces. Alabama, California, and Texas have each adopted the MEMS badge as a basic qualification required of all members desiring promotion. Training is conducted through MEMS academies in each state, and includes course material provided online by FEMA and other agencies, as well as practical experience in local disaster planning and exercise management. []

Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) are being organized by several state defense forces by utilizing training offered by the FEMA Citizen Corps. Some states offer a shoulder patch to be worn in the same style as the U.S. Army Ranger arc as an incentive to become certified as part of the local or unit CERT team. CERT teams are open to any able bodied citizen and are a good way for SDF's to integrate into their communities.Fact|date=July 2008

Special Units

State defense forces include a surprising variety of special units including medical, aviation, and ceremonial units. The following are representative:

*Cavalry Troop A, Maryland Defense Force [ [ Maryland Defense Force - Cavalry Troop A ] ]
*Aviation Battalion, Virginia Defense Force [ [ Virginia Defense Force Aviation Battalion ] ]
*Governor's Foot Guard & Band, Connecticut State Militia [ [ First Company Governor's Foot Guard ] ]
*Georgia State Defense Force Band [ [ The Georgia State Defense Force - Band ] ]
*Oregon State Defense Force Pipe Band []
*Texas Medical Rangers [ [ Untitled Document ] ]
*Small Arms Training Team -Small arms and crew served weapons, California State Military Reserve [ [] ]


Uniform policies are important to State Defense Force soldiers. As a rule, State Defense Forces wear standard U.S. military uniforms with insignia closely matching those of their Federal counterpart, though state variations often stray far from the guidance of National Guard Bureau Regulation 10-4 [ [ NGR 10-4 ] ] . Army units generally wear red name tags on service uniforms, and name tapes on ACU and BDU uniforms use the State Defense Force name or state name rather than "U.S. Army." Standard U.S. Army corps insignia are often used (sometimes in violation of NGR 10-4,) or a unique "state guard" corps insignia consisting of a musket crossed by a sword is used instead, particularly for those members who have not attended a U.S. Army corps qualification course. Where berets are worn, some State Defense Forces use a beret flash identical to the one the U.S. Army uses, but in bright red thread instead of the Federal infantry blue flash. Some states have beret flashes based on the state flag. Maryland Defense Force soldiers wear a black beret with a distinctive flash. [ [ Maryland Defense Force - Mission ] ] State soldiers in the New York Guard wear a grey beret flash. [] Per NGR 10-4, states may prescribe their own distinctive uniforms without consulting the National Guard Bureau, provided no distinctive Federal items are worn.

Uniforms have become an uncomfortable subject in some states.Fact|date=July 2008 In states where the State Defense Force integrates comfortably within the state structure of the National Guard, state uniforms tend to have only subtle differences not easily discerned by civilians. For example, in Texas, where State and Federal soldiers work side-by-side, the Texas State Guard wears standard U.S. Army camouflage uniforms (but do not wear a beret unless in dress uniform) a state guard unit patch, and the "U.S. Army" name tape replaced with one reading "Texas State Guard." Similarly, the California State Military Reserve wears a uniform almost indistinguishable from the U.S. Army uniform worn by its Federal counterparts in the National Guard except for the unit patch and beret flash. A similar pattern can be found in the New York Guard. The Georgia State Defense Force (a legally constituted element of the [ Georgia Department of Defense] } often works in tandem with and support of Federal troops. The Georgia State Defense Force wears the Army Combat Uniform with a unique Georgia SDF red flash on the U.S. ARMY black beret and GEORGIA in place of the U.S. ARMY uniform name tape. The Tennessee State Guard wears a "tactical response uniform" (TRU) [ [ Joe ] ] in the M81 Woodland pattern but whose cut and accouterments match the new Army Combat Uniform.

In Alabama, where distinct tension between the Federal and state military forces has existed for many years, an opposite approach is taken. Members of the Alabama State Defense Force (ASDF) wear subdued or brightly colored insignia on camouflage uniforms, along with bright (non-subdued) patches. Berets are not authorized. In their brightly colored uniforms, ASDF soldiers cannot be mistaken for Federal troops. Some argue that all SDFs should take this stand so they can't be mistaken for Federal troops. For a brief period service uniforms were not authorized for ASDF troops, until members pointed out that the ribbons awarded them for Alabama service were therefore not authorized for wear on "any" uniform or civilian clothing (ribbons can only be worn on service or dress uniforms.) Since State Defense Forces generally grant no pay and are entirely volunteer organizations, the award of a ribbon is one of the few acknowledgments state soldiers receive. The commanding general quietly lifted the ban on service uniforms in the next release of ASDF uniform regulations.

In all cases, the state adjutant general has final say on uniforms worn by State Defense Forces, though Federal service regulations generally shape the policies of each state. U.S. Army regulations tacitly approve the wear of the Army uniform by State Defense Forces, but Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps uniform regulations do not address the issue. Wear of distinctive insignia, such as officer insignia [ [ US CODE: Title 10,773. When distinctive insignia required ] ] and the Marine Corps' "eagle, globe, and anchor" may not be legal for State Defense Force soldiers. [ [ US CODE: Title 10,7881. Unauthorized use of Marine Corps insignia ] ]

Partial List of State Defense Force ground unit BDU/ACU Uniform Variances from Federal force uniforms.


Efforts are being made in Congress to better integrate the State Defense Forces into a larger Homeland Security strategy. This might involve enabling the Secretary of Defense to coordinate with, loan equipment to, and provide training for the State Defense Forces as the National Guard Reserve. Even absent such federal support, as State Defense Forces become increasingly more "professionalized" in terms of the quality of their recruits, training, and state-level funding, they are sureFact|date=June 2008 to perform an increasingly significant--and more visible--role alongside other, more established, responders. Though to date little has been done to better equip or train forces and the integration that was hoped for has yet to be fully realized.

Federal activation

The U.S. Constitution, coupled with several statutory and case laws, details the relationship of the State Defense Forces to the federal government. Outside 32 USC 109, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled: "It is true that the state defense forces 'may not be called, ordered, or drafted into the armed forces.' 32 U.S.C. 109(c). It is nonetheless possible that they are subject to call under 10 U.S.C. 331-333, which distinguish the 'militia' from the 'armed forces,' and which appear to subject all portions of the 'militia' - organized or not - to call if needed for the purposes specified in the Militia Clauses" "Perpich" v. "Department of Defense", 496 U.S. 334 (1990). The following is an extract of the laws which the U.S. Supreme Court cited giving the federal government authority to activate the State Defense Forces.

10 USC 331 - “Federal aid for State governments”

Whenever there is an insurrection in any State against its government, the President may, upon the request of its legislature or of its governor if the legislature cannot be convened, call into Federal service such of the militia of the other States, in the number requested by that State, and use such of the armed forces, as he considers necessary to suppress the insurrection.

10 USC 332 – “Use of militia and armed forces to enforce Federal authority”

Whenever the President considers that unlawful obstructions, combinations, or assemblages, or rebellion against the authority of the United States, make it impracticable to enforce the laws of the United States in any State or Territory by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, he may call into Federal service such of the militia of any State, and use such of the armed forces, as he considers necessary to enforce those laws or to suppress the rebellion.

10 USC 333 – “Interference with State and Federal law”

The President, by using the militia or the armed forces, or both, or by any other means, shall take such measures as he considers necessary to suppress, in a State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy, if it -
(1) so hinders the execution of the laws of that State, and of the United States within the State, that any part or class of its people is deprived of a right, privilege, immunity, or protection named in the Constitution and secured by law, and the constituted authorities of that State are unable, fail, or refuse to protect that right, privilege, or immunity, or to give that protection; or
(2) opposes or obstructs the execution of the laws of the United States or impedes the course of justice under those laws.
In any situation covered by clause (1), the State shall be considered to have denied the equal protection of the laws secured by the Constitution.

List of current State and Territory Defense Forces

A 2005 Department of Defense report reported 27 active SDFs. If the state is not listed below as having an active defense force (even if the state has a law authorizing an SDF), then they are unofficial military organizations, who may be violating 18 USC 702 by wearing Federal military uniforms without proper authority.

See also

* Awards and decorations of the State Defense Forces
* Naval militia

External links

* [ State Guard Association of the United States]
* []
* []
* [ Black Horse Brigade Virginia Defense Force] Homepage

Federal bills regarding use of the State Defense Forces

* [ 2003 House Resolution #2787] : Guard in relation to Homeland Security
* [ 2005 House Resolution #3411] : Guard in relation to Homeland Security
* [ 2006 Senate Resolution #2767] : Proposed use of Armed Forces and Guard in times of emergency
* [ 2007 House Resolution #826:] State Defense Force Improvement Act


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