State defense forces (SDF; also known as state military, state guards, state militias, or state military reserves) in the United States are military units that operate under the sole authority of a state government. State defense forces are authorized by state and federal law and are under the command of the governor of each state.
State defense forces are distinct from their state's National Guard in that they cannot become federal entities. All state National Guard personnel (to include the National Guard of the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the territories of Guam and the Virgin Islands) can be federalized under the National Defense Act Amendments of 1933 with the creation of the National Guard of the United States. This provides the basis for integrating units and personnel of the Army National Guard into the U.S. Army and, since 1947, units and personnel of the Air National Guard into the U.S. Air Force.
The federal government recognizes state defense forces, as per the Compact Clause of the U.S. Constitution, under 32 U.S.C. § 109 which provides that state defense forces as a whole may not be called, ordered, or drafted into the armed forces of the United States, thus preserving their separation from the National Guard. However, under the same law, individual members serving in the state defense force are not exempt from service in the armed forces (i.e., they are not excluded from the draft). Under 32 USC § 109(e), "A person may not become a member of a defense force ... if he is a member of a reserve component of the armed forces."
Nearly every state has laws authorizing state defense forces, and twenty-two states, plus the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, have active forces with different levels of activity, support, and strength. State defense forces generally operate with emergency management and homeland security missions. Most SDFs are organized as army units, but air and naval units also exist.
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, with the training and readiness of the latter varying widely. As a result of the Spanish-American War and the performance of the militias and other volunteer units during that conflict, Congress was called upon to reform and regulate the training and qualification of state militias. In 1903, with passage of the Militia Act of 1903, the predecessor to the modern-day National Guard was formed. It required the states to divide their militias into two sections. The law recommended the title "National Guard" for the first section, known as the organized militia, and "Reserve Militia" for all others.
During World War I, Congress authorized the states to maintain Home Guards, which were reserve forces outside the National Guard forces that were then being deployed by the Federal Government as part of the National Army. The Secretary of War was authorized to furnish these Home Guard units with rifles, ammunition, and supplies.
In 1933, Congress finalized the split between the National Guard and the traditional state militias by mandating that all federally funded soldiers take a dual enlistment/commission and thus enter both the state National Guard and the newly created National Guard of the United States, a federal reserve force. In 1940, with the onset of World War II and as a result of its federalizing the National Guard, Congress amended the National Defense Act of 1916, and authorized the states to maintain "military forces other than National Guard."
In 1950, with the outbreak of the Korean War and at the urging of the National Guard, Congress reauthorized the separate state military forces for a time period of two years. These state military forces were authorized military training at federal expense, as well as "arms, ammunition, clothing, and equipment," as deemed necessary by the Secretary of the Army. At the end of the two years, however, they were not reauthorized under federal law.
In 1956, Congress finally revised the law and authorized "state defense forces" permanently under Title 32, Section 109, of the United States Code. Two years later, Congress amended the law and changed the name from "State defense forces" to "defense forces." Still, it was not until the early Ronald Reagan administration that many states developed their defense forces into elements that existed beyond paper, when the U.S. Department of Defense actively encouraged states to create and maintain SDF units.
By the late 1980s, however, a series of high-profile reports caused several states to shut down or significantly restructure their forces. In 1987, the governor of Utah removed all but thirty-one officers from the Utah State Guard, after a probe revealed that its ranks were "peppered with neo-Nazis, felons and mental patients." Meanwhile, in 1990, the Virginia General Assembly launched an investigation and subsequent overhaul of its state's force after receiving tips that the volunteers were "saving money to buy a tank."
With the end of the Cold War came a general decrease of interest in state defense forces. The attacks of September 11, 2001, however, generated additional attention and, with it, greater scrutiny from some in the United States military who questioned the training and equipment of the units and whether they provided an outlet for "warrior wannabes" who would not otherwise qualify for service in the armed forces. In 2008, Alaska disarmed its state defense force after an investigation concluded the lack of training intensity or standardization was a potential legal liability to the state. By 2010 the status of the force had been downgraded even further, with the Adjutant-General of the Alaska National Guard informing volunteers that they would only be called upon as a "reserve of last resort to be used only in the most extreme emergencies." The ASDF remained deliberately hamstrung for over half a decade, until Governor Bill Walker overruled the Adjutant-General in 2016 when he announced his intention to reform the Alaska State Defense Force by expanding it further into rural Alaska and improving training standards.
Further controversy was stoked by a New York Times report which found many senior officers in the New York Guard had little or no formal military training despite holding, in some cases, general officer ranks. The former commander of the force, Pierre David Lax, noted that, "if you are friendly with the governor and you always wanted to be a general, you ask the governor to make you a general, and poof, you are a brigadier general." Another former commander asserted he regularly awarded titles to members of the New York legislature in exchange for their support of budgetary allocations to the force. The report also noted that a majority of the unit's rare deployments involved providing ceremonial support, such as bands and color guards, to the state government.
An April 2014 Department of Defense report by the Inspector General's office reported confusion and inconsistency among state adjutant generals as to the use and status of state defense forces. The Inspector General's office reported an under-utilization of state defense force capabilities due to a lack of clarity in the US Code regarding the use of SDFs, fueling fear that using funds and assets acquired through the federal government for state defense forces could run afoul of regulations. (While the National Guard is operated by the states, most of their equipment and funding comes from the federal government.) This fear of violating regulations also inhibited their use and integration with their National Guard counterparts, preventing them from conducting joint operations alongside one another, and also from volunteering in support of federal missions. Other problems cited by the Inspector General's office were a lack of standardization in training and physical fitness, raising questions as to the ability of SDFs to work alongside their National Guard counterparts, and a lack of coordination with and support from the Department of Defense. During a survey conducted by the Inspector General of SDF commanders and adjutant generals, 18 of 19 considered their SDFs to be part of the organized militia and subject to the Code of Military Justice, 14 of 18 considered the members of SDFs to be "soldiers", 14 of 18 considered SDF personnel to be "lawful belligerents" under the rules of war, and only 4 of 19 authorized their personnel to conduct firearms training. Almost all of the missions reported to the IG's office were non-military in nature, including small-scale search and rescue, disaster management, and other unarmed, homeland security related-tasks.
Due to public fears over the Jade Helm 15 exercises held throughout a number of southwestern states, on April 28, 2015, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas ordered a call-up of the Texas State Guard to monitor the exercises and facilitate communication between US special operations forces conducting training and the governor's office.
A 2003 article in the United States Army War College's Parameters journal recommended that "United States Northern Command (NORTHCOM) should ensure that future contingency planning efforts for homeland security operations fully incorporate the valuable capabilities that State Defense Forces can provide."  In the decade following that article, however, no significant action has been taken on the recommendation.
Several bills have been unsuccessfully introduced in Congress since the early 1990s seeking to improve the readiness of state defense forces. The most recent, H.R. 206, introduced in 2009 by Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina, would have allowed the U.S. Secretary of Defense to transfer surplus U.S. military equipment to state defense forces. Co-sponsors of the bill included Jim Marshall and Frank Wolf. Congress took no action on the measure before adjourning.
In recent years, state defense forces have focused on retooling their capabilities to be better prepared for future missions by improving their professionalism and interoperability with other agencies. The development of professional commands to support the National Guard, especially medical commands to buttress civil authorities during a civil crisis, has become an emerging trend.
Several state defense forces have begun to shift their focus to preparing for larger emergencies which may require multiple states to coordinate relief efforts. In July 2015, the Virginia Defense Force headed a multi-state communications exercise, the first ever of its kind, where the VDF practiced long-distance radio communications with the Tennessee State Guard, Indiana Guard Reserve, Texas State Guard, and the California State Military Reserve. Further efforts at standardizing training between state defense forces by setting competency requirements have been undertaken by the State Guard Association, which followed its Military Emergency Management Specialist training program with a JAG Academy an Engineer Specialty Qualification Badge, and plans for a Medical Academy in the future.
Individual states have made efforts to increase their capabilities to be prepared to take on future missions. In March 2017, the California State Military Reserve activated its Maritime Component to lead and assist in future homeland security missions while working in conjunction with other agencies, including the Coast Guard Auxiliary, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, CalTrans, and other civilian departments. As of May 2017, the Maryland Defense Force has significantly reorganized; the number of available officer billets has been shrunk, and the job descriptions reorganized, in order to avoid having a top-heavy organizational structure. New units, including the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) Support Unit, have been approved, and others, such as the MDDF Cyber Unit, have planned expansions. Training standards were also heightened, with the MDDF requiring that drill participation, age, height, and weight requirements be more strictly enforced. Further, all new soldiers are currently required to earn their Military Emergency Management Specialist Badge. These changes were made with the goal that the future MDDF would be able to "seamlessly integrate into missions with the National Guard."
There are currently twenty-one active state defense forces. A 2005 Department of Defense report reported twenty-three active SDFs in the United States and Puerto Rico. Since this time, New Jersey has suspended its State Defense Force. Per Chief National Guard Bureau Instruction 5500.01: "The NG will not spend Federal funds, to include pay and allowances, subsistence, transportation, medical care and treatment, or use of Federal equipment for activities with the primary purpose of training or otherwise for the support of SDFs IAW section 109 of reference a."
State defense forces include:
|State or Territory||Status||Military Division||Naval Division||Air Wing||State Law||Weapons Training|
|Alabama||Inactive||Alabama State Defense Force||||Not currently|
|Alaska||Active||Alaska State Defense Force||Alaska Naval Militia||||Yes|
|Arkansas||Inactive||Arkansas State Guard|||
|California||Active||California State Military Reserve||California State Military Reserve Maritime Support Command||||yes|
|Colorado||Not Established*||Colorado State Defense Force|||
|Connecticut||Active||Connecticut State Militia Units||Connecticut Naval Militia (inactive)||||Yes|
|Delaware||Inactive||Delaware State Guard|||
|District of Columbia||Not Established|
|Florida||Inactive||Florida State Guard||Florida Naval Militia|||
|Georgia||Active||Georgia State Defense Force||Georgia Naval Militia (inactive)||||Yes|
|Hawai'i||Inactive||Hawaii Territorial Guard|||
|Idaho||Inactive||Idaho State Guard|||
|Illinois||Inactive||Illinois Reserve Militia||Illinois Naval Militia||||?|
|Indiana||Active||Indiana Guard Reserve||Indiana Naval Militia (inactive)||||Yes|
|Iowa||Inactive||Iowa State Guard|||
|Kansas||Inactive||Kansas State Guard|||
|Kentucky||Inactive||Kentucky Active Militia|||
|Louisiana||Active||Louisiana State Guard||||?|
|Maine||Inactive||Maine State Guard|||
|Maryland||Active||Maryland Defense Force||||Not currently|
|Massachusetts||Active||Massachusetts State Defense Force||||not currently|
|Michigan||Active||Michigan Volunteer Defense Force||||?|
|Minnesota||Inactive||Minnesota State Guard|||
|Mississippi||Active||Mississippi State Guard||||?|
|Missouri||Active||Missouri State Defense Force|||
|Nebraska||Inactive||Nebraska State Guard|||
|New Hampshire||Inactive||New Hampshire State Guard|||
|New Jersey||Inactive||New Jersey State Guard||New Jersey Naval Militia||||?|
|New Mexico||Active||New Mexico State Defense Force||||?|
|New York||Active||New York Guard||New York Naval Militia||||NYG: No; NYNM: ?|
|North Carolina||Inactive||North Carolina State Defense Militia|||
|North Dakota||Not Established|||
|Ohio||Active||Ohio Military Reserve||Ohio Naval Militia||||Not currently|
|Oklahoma||Inactive||Oklahoma State Guard||||?|
|Oregon||Inactive||Oregon Civil Defense Force||||?|
|Pennsylvania||Inactive||Pennsylvania State Guard|||
|Puerto Rico||Active||Puerto Rico State Guard||Yes||Yes|
|Rhode Island||Inactive||Rhode Island State Guard|||
|South Carolina||Active||South Carolina State Guard||South Carolina Naval Militia||||Yes|
|South Dakota||Inactive||South Dakota State Guard|||
|Tennessee||Active||Tennessee State Guard||||?|
|Texas||Active||Texas State Guard||Texas State Guard Maritime Regiment||Yes||||No|
|Utah||Inactive||Utah State Defense Force|||
|Vermont||Active||Vermont State Guard||Yes||||Competitive only|
|Virginia||Active||Virginia Defense Force||Eliminated||inactive||||No|
|Washington||Active||Washington State Guard||||Not currently|
|West Virginia||Not Established|||
|Wisconsin||Inactive||Wisconsin State Defense Force||Wisconsin Naval Militia|||
* Colorado does not operate an active state defense force, but rather has a statutory state defense force staffed by one individual appointed by the governor.
Some state defense forces have minimal enlistment requirements, permitting virtually any citizen under a prescribed age (usually 66) to join, even if they have no previous military experience, or don't meet conventional military physical standards (California, for instance, requires no physical fitness test prior to entry and has weight/height standards significantly more relaxed than the U.S. military).
The Military Emergency Management Specialist Badge, created by the State Guard Association of the United States has become a common training focal point among state defense forces. Alabama, California, Indiana, Ohio and others have adopted the MEMS Badge as a basic qualification required of all members desiring promotion. Training is conducted both online, and through MEMS academies in each state, and includes course material provided 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 SDFs by utilizing training offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Citizen Corps. Some states follow the lead of the Army and offer a permanent tab (worn in a similar manner as the Army's Ranger and Sapper tabs) as an incentive to become certified as part of the local or unit CERT team.
State defense forces may incorporate Medical Reserve Corps units into their organizational structure. The 47th Medical Company (MRC), of the New Mexico State Defense Force, the 10th Medical Regiment of the Maryland Defense Force, and the Medical Brigade of the Texas State Guard receive training and recognition from the Medical Reserve Corps program sponsored by the Office of the Surgeon General of the United States through the Citizen Corps program, and are simultaneously organized as units of their respective state defense force.
Weapons qualification and training is provided in some SDFs. However, most SDFs do not require weapons proficiency. A 2006 report by the U.S. Freedom Foundation, an organization affiliated with the State Guard Association of the United States, recommended minimum standards for state defense forces, including weapons training, but the report has been largely ignored. Some SDFs have laws that in the event of deployment by order of the state legislature and/or governor, they will become armed.
As a general rule, state defense forces wear standard U.S. military uniforms with insignia closely matching those of their federal counterparts. SDF units generally wear red name tags on service uniforms (as specifically prescribed by AR 670-1 for SDF units when adopting the Army Service Uniform or Battle Dress Uniform (BDU), and name tapes on Army Combat Uniform (ACU) or BDU uniforms use the state defense force name or state name rather than "U.S. Army." Standard U.S. Army branch insignia are often used or a unique "state guard" branch insignia consisting of a crossed musket and sword is alternatively used.
Where berets are worn, some state defense forces use a beret flash similar to the one the U.S. Army uses, but in bright red thread instead of the Army's blue. Other states have beret flashes based on the state flag. State soldiers in the New York Guard formerly wore a grey beret flash. (Wear of the beret by New York Guard soldiers has been discontinued, replaced by a black patrol cap.)
Uniforms vary from state to state and tend to have only subtle differences. For example, the Texas State Guard wears standard U.S. Army camouflage uniforms, 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 identical to their National Guard counterparts except for the unit patch, beret flash, and the "California" name tape. Outer garments such as a Gore-Tex jacket have a subdued "CA" beneath the rank insignia. A similar pattern can be found in the New York Guard. The Georgia State Defense Force often works in tandem with and support of federal troops. The Georgia State Defense Force wears the ACU with a unique Georgia SDF red flash on the U.S. Army's black beret and "Georgia" in place of the "U.S. Army" uniform name tape. The Tennessee State Guard and Alabama State Defense Force can wear either BDU's or the "tactical response uniform" (TRU) in the Woodland pattern but whose cut and accouterments match the ACU but cannot mix pieces. The Alabama State Defense Force has also recently introduced a new "Standard Service Uniform" composed of a blue "tactical" shirt, and khaki "tactical" pants.
The few states with both SDF air and naval units wear modified USAF and USN/USMC uniforms. Currently, only Texas, Ohio, Alaska and New York have uniformed naval militias. Only Texas, California, Vermont, and Puerto Rico have an air wing, though Indiana formerly had an Air Guard Reserve. 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.
|Force||Branch Tape Reads||Branch & Name Tape colors||Insignia||Head Covering||Uniform Type|
|Alabama State Defense Force||ALABAMA||White on red||Subdued||Patrol cap with unsubdued insignia
None, optional baseball cap
|BDU & TRU|
Navy blue tactical shirt, khaki tactical pants
|Alaska State Defense Force||ALASKA||Black on ACU||Black on ACU||ACU patrol cap||ACU|
|California State Military Reserve||CALIFORNIA||Black on ACU
Blue on ABU
|Black on ACU||ACU patrol cap
ABU patrol cap
|Georgia State Defense Force||GEORGIA||Black on ACU||Black on ACU||ACU patrol cap
Black beret with red flash for special occasions
|Indiana Guard Reserve||INDIANA||Black on ACU||Black on ACU||Black patrol cap||ACU|
|Maryland Defense Force||MARYLAND||Black on ACU||Black on ACU||ACU patrol cap with "Maryland" on back||ACU|
|Massachusetts State Defense Force||Massachusetts||Black on ACU||Black on ACU||ACU patrol cap||ACU|
|Michigan Volunteer Defense Force||MICHIGAN||Black on ACU||Black on ACU||ACU patrol cap||ACU|
|Mississippi State Guard||MS STATE GUARD||Black on ACU||Black on ACU||Patrol cap & subdued insignia
Black beret w/red flash
|New York Guard||N.Y. GUARD||Black on grey (ACU)
Black on olive drab (BDU)
|Black on grey (ACU)
Black on olive drab (BDU)
|Black patrol cap w/bright rank insignia
Black beret w/ gray flash (Dress Blues Only)
(BDU authorized until 30 September 2013)
|New York Naval Militia||N.Y. NAVAL MILITIA||Yellow on NWU
Black on MARPAT
White on blue
|Yellow on NWU
Black on MARPAT
White on blue
|Naval style 8-point cover
Marine style 8-point cover
|Ohio Military Reserve||OHIO||Black on olive drab||Black on olive drab||Patrol cap||BDU/TRU|
|Ohio Naval Militia||OHIO NAVY||Gold/silver on navy blue||Gold/silver on navy blue (E-4 & up)||Naval style 8-point cover||NWU|
|Oregon State Defense Force||OREGON||Black on ACU||Black on ACU||ACU patrol cap with subdued insignia||ACU|
|Puerto Rico State Guard||PRSG ARMY
PRSG AIR FORCE
|Black on ACU||Black on ACU||Black beret with yellow & red flash reminiscent of Spanish heraldry||ACU|
|South Carolina State Guard||S.C. STATE GUARD||Silver on Black||Subdued||OCP Patrol Cap||OCP|
|Tennessee State Guard||TN ST GUARD||Black on olive drab||Black on olive drab||Black beret with red flash||TRU|
|Texas State Guard (Army Component)||TEXAS STATE GUARD||Black on OCP (Army)||Black on OCP||Patrol cap||OCP|
|Texas State Guard (Air Component)||TEXAS STATE GUARD||Black on OCP (Air Force)||Black on OCP||Patrol Cap||OCP|
|Texas State Guard Maritime Regiment||TEXAS STATE GUARD||Black on OCP||Black on OCP||Patrol Cap||OCP|
|Vermont State Guard||VT STATE GUARD||Black on olive drab||Black on olive drab||patrol cap||BDU|
|Virginia Defense Force||VA. DEF. FORCE||Black on olive drab||Black on olive drab||patrol cap||BDU/TRU|
|Washington State Guard||WASHINGTON||OCP Tapes||OCP Tapes||patrol cover or beret with green flash||OCP|
SDFs include a variety of special units including medical, aviation, and ceremonial units. The following are examples:
The U.S. Constitution, coupled with several statutes and cases, details the relationship of state defense forces to the federal government. Outside of 32 USC 109, the U.S. Supreme Court noted: "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 Court, however, explicitly noted that it was not deciding this issue. The following is an extract of the laws which the Court cited as possibly 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.
There are a number of civic organizations which are attempting to reactivate the state defense forces in states whose state guards are inactive. Some of these groups include the Pennsylvania Military Reserve, which is attempting to reactivate the Pennsylvania State Guard and the Florida State Defense Force Reactivation Group which advocates for the reactivation of the Florida State Guard.
A number of legislators have spearheaded attempts to reactivate the state defense forces of their states. In 2011, a bill was introduced in the New Hampshire General Court which, if passed, would permanently reestablish the New Hampshire State Guard. The bill did not pass. The same year, Governor Jan Brewer signed a bill which authorized the organization of a state defense force in Arizona. In 2018, Kansas state senator Dennis Pyle petitioned the Governor of Kansas to reactivate the Kansas State Guard, in part to offer an additional security resource for schools.