State guard adds protection efficiently

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By Benjamin R. Cashner


After Superstorm Sandy ravaged the eastern seaboard, the states of New York and Virginia, in addition to their National Guard forces, called upon another cost-effective crisis response asset that Iowa currently lacks: state guard units. Twenty-two states (and Puerto Rico) have active state guards, which are sometimes known as state militias or state defense forces, or SDFs.

Unlike the National Guard, which is operated by the state and federal governments, SDFs are funded and operated solely under the authority of the state. They are under the command of the state governor and cannot be called into federal service. While the National Guard has proved itself to be extremely good at its job, SDFs offer several advantages that allow them to nicely complement National Guard forces.

First, because they are solely state assets, there is no risk that they might be deployed overseas when a disaster springs up here at home. State autonomy also allows the organization of state guard units to be custom-tailored to the state’s needs.

Second, SDFs can draw from two sources of volunteers that the National Guard cannot. One is prior military service members who can no longer fulfill the commitments or requirements of active duty or National Guard service but still want to serve in some capacity. Another is people who may be willing to defend their own soil but are unwilling to potentially be sent to the other side of the world to defend someone else’s.

A third advantage is that state guard units can be operated at comparatively little expense. Unlike National Guardsmen, who are professional soldiers, state guard members are generally unpaid volunteers (although many with prior service). They can often use state-owned National Guard armories and training facilities rather than requiring their own.

If on a truly shoestring budget, SDF members could even be required to provide their own arms (although perhaps restricted to a few standard military calibers). This was how state militias were originally armed in this country. (Some modern SDFs don’t allow their members weapons. Senior Fellow for Homeland Security at the U.S. Freedom Foundation, John Brinkerhoff, a retired Army colonel and former associate director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, points out the folly of this: “An unarmed SDF cannot perform the security and response missions for which the SDF is needed and which is the sole basis for having the SDF in the first place. An unarmed militia is an oxymoron.”

Another advantage that an SDF could offer here in Iowa is that it could be made to conform to the requirements for the state militia as laid out in the Iowa Constitution. Article VI, Sec 3 states: “All commissioned officers of the militia (staff officers excepted) shall be elected by the persons liable to perform military duty, and shall be commissioned by the governor.” The National Guard cannot meet these obligations as their officers are rightfully commissioned by the president.

Since 9/11, the National Guard has proved itself to be a valuable asset to the national defense establishment. Forming a state guard would provide Iowa with a cost-effective local supplement to its National Guard force.

Benjamin R. Cashner, a freelance writer in Monticello, served as an infantryman in the Iowa Army National Guard from 1992 to 1998. He blogs at Comments:


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