law allows states to raise and maintain state defense forces (SDF).
As the emergency response to Hurricane Katrina demonstrated, these
groups can be an important supplement to the National Guard,
particularly during catastrophic disasters. When trained,
disciplined, and well organized, local responders are essential for
providing immediate aid and security. Congress and the Bush
Administration should encourage states to better organize, train,
and equip these volunteer units.
Law. The U.S. Constitution and United States Code Title
32, Section 309, authorize state defense forces. An SDF is under
the command of the governor and reports to the state's Adjutant
General. The state's constitution and laws prescribe the SDF's
duties and responsibilities. These forces are state troops and are
not funded by the federal government. In order to use armories,
train on military installations, and receive in-kind support,
states have to comply with federal standards for the National Guard
in matters of accession, training, uniforms, and discipline. SDF
personnel receive no pay for training but may be paid for active
duty under state control.
Force. Several states formed SDF units during World War I
to replace their National Guard, which had been called into federal
active duty. About 100,000 armed SDF personnel guarded key
infrastructure and secured the coastlines and land frontiers.
During World War II, about 200,000 state guardsmen, with War
Department support, replaced the mobilized National Guard. The SDF
program was revived in 1980 during the Cold War under the premise
that SDF personnel would have to replace the National Guard on the
home front if troops were mobilized to fight in Europe. Currently,
23 states maintain state defense forces of some kind, for a
nationwide total of about 14,000 personnel.
In the Wake of
Disaster. So far, several thousand SDF personnel from at
least eight states have participated in the response to Hurricane
Katrina. Louisiana activated all of its SDF. About 150 of these
personnel were used in the response operation in support of the
Louisiana National Guard. Mississippi also activated all of its
State Guard personnel, principally in support of the Army National
Guard, to provide security and operate shelters. Under the
direction of the Adjutant General, Alabama SDF personnel assisted
in providing security and supported the operations of the Alabama
Although most SDF personnel were used in
their own states, some were also deployed to the Gulf Coast. The
Texas State Guard activated over 1,000 members on paid active duty.
Medical and military police units received evacuees at Kelly Air
Force Base and supported operations at the Houston Astrodome and at
shelters in four other locations within Texas. Georgia SDF
personnel were activated in unpaid status to process evacuees
through Dobbins Air Reserve Base and to provide medical and
administrative support and security for shelters. Virginia used
about 100 unpaid volunteers as part of the Katrina response
operation. This allowed additional members of the Virginia National
Guard to deploy to the Gulf Coast. Members of the Virginia defense
force assisted in the deployment of National Guard units and
provided security for armories. The Maryland defense force sent an
81-person medical team to Louisiana. The Tennessee State Guard was
alerted on September 1 and activated 150 volunteers to secure and
support shelter operations at several locations.
Force for the
Future. Katrina demonstrated the difference between a
"normal" disaster and a catastrophe. The normal response to
disaster calls for a cascading response. Local community resources
have the primary responsibility to respond. When their resources
are overwhelmed, they seek aid from the state. In turn, when state
assets are exhausted, the federal government provides assistance.
This process usually takes days. By contrast, in a catastrophic
disaster, state and local responders are stressed from the start.
In these situations, it is vital to draw on volunteer groups to
help close the support gap until the resources of the nation can be
Although governors have great
responsibility for preparedness and response in catastrophic
emergencies, they have few resources other than their National
Guard available to them. SDF provide a low-cost way for states to
increase the resources available. However, they have received
little attention. Some state Adjutants General want strong and
effective SDF under their command as part of their state military
departments. Others resist having SDF, in some cases because of the
additional work necessary to administer them. Historically, the
Pentagon has offered little support or advice to the states.
Additionally, while the Department of Homeland Security promotes
volunteer participation in national preparedness and response
programs, it has paid scant attention to SDF.
Neglecting SDF is a mistake. With National
Guard forces being called to active duty more frequently than at
any time since the Korean War, the need for SDF to provide some
measure of backup support to the states should be readily
Forward. SDF should be a core part of the volunteer assets
available to states in time of crisis. Congress can help by
establishing a legislative framework to require appropriate
cooperation between the Departments of Defense and Homeland
Security and the state governments on SDF matters. One bill, H.R.
3401 (the State Defense Force Improvement Act), introduced by
Representatives Joe Wilson (R-GA) and Lincoln Davis (D-TN),
provides that Congress recognize state defense forces as "an
integral military component of the Nation's homeland security
effort" under state control and for use at the state level in
accordance with state laws. It would also authorize the Pentagon
and Department of Homeland Security to provide limited support for
SDF at no direct cost to the federal government.
Conclusion. In considering how best to
respond to disasters like Katrina, not all of the answers can be
found in Washington. Building a stronger community response through
volunteer groups such as state defense forces is an essential part
James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Senior
Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security in the
Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies
at The Heritage Foundation. John R. Brinkerhoff is an Adjunct
Research Staff Member at the Institute for Defense