When the National Guard's oldest regiments met for their first drill on the village green in Salem, Massachusetts, they were barely three months old, organized on December 13th, 1636, the date we now celebrate as the National Guard birthday.
In 1637, the English settlements in North America were a tiny fringe along the Eastern seaboard. As settlement pushed west into the interior, the institution of the militia, which the colonists brought with them from England, went with them.
The militia tradition meant citizens organizing themselves into military units, responsible for their own defense. Organizing the militia into regiments increased its efficiency and responsiveness, which proved critical for the defense of their communities. Its oldest units, like the one pictured above, are the oldest units in the United States military and among the oldest military units in the world.
The militia, called the National Guard since 1916, has served community, state, and nation for nearly 400 years, and citizen-soldiers have fought in every major American conflict from 1637 to present day operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Much has changed since the “first muster,” but more than 370 years later, the men and women of the National Guard are still defending their neighbors – and their nation.