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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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) 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.
State defense forces include a surprising variety of special units including medical, aviation, and ceremonial units. The following are representative:
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. 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. 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. 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) 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 and the Marine Corps' "eagle, globe, and anchor" may not be legal for State Defense Force soldiers.
Partial List of State Defense Force ground unit BDU/ACU Uniform Variances from Federal force uniforms.
|Force||Name Tape Reads||Name Tape colors||Insignia||Head Covering||Uniform Type|
|Alabama State Defense Force||ALSDF||Red on Olive drab||Bright metal or gold on olive drab||patrol cap only||BDU|
|Alaska State Defense Force||ALASKA||Black on ACU||Black on ACU||ACU Patrol Cap||ACU|
|California State Military Reserve||CALIFORNIA||Black on Olive Drab/ACU||Black on Olive Drab/ACU||Black beret with California hexagon flash||ACU|
|Georgia State Defense Force||GEORGIA||Black on ACU||N/A||Black beret with red GaSDF flash||ACU|
|Indiana Guard Reserve||INDIANA||Black on ACU||Black on ACU||Army beret & flash||ACU|
|Maryland Defense Force||MARYLAND||Black on ACU||Black on ACU||Black beret with state flash||ACU|
|Michigan Volunteer Defense Force||MICHIGAN||Black on Olive Drab||Black on Olive Drab||Black beret with red flash|
|Mississippi State Guard||MISSISSIPPI||Red on Olive drab||Black on Olive Drab||Patrol cap & bright insignia||BDU|
|New York Guard||NY GUARD||Black on Olive Drab (Army)||Black on Olive Drab (Army)||Black beret & grey flash||BDU|
|Ohio Military Reserve||OHIO||Black on Olive Drab||Black on Olive Drab||patrol cap||ACU & BDU|
|Ohio Naval Militia||O. N. M.||Black on Olive Drab||Gold/Silver on Olive Drab (E-4 & up)||Naval style 8-point cover|
|Oregon State Defense Force||OREGON||Black on Olive Drab||Black on Olive Drab||BDU|
|Puerto Rico State Guard||PRSG ARMY||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||Gray on black||Black on Olive Drab||patrol cap||BDU|
|Tennessee State Guard||TN ST GUARD||Black on Olive Drab||Black on Olive Drab||Black beret with red flash||BDU (ACU CUT)|
|Texas State Guard||TEXAS STATE GUARD||Black on Olive Drab/ACU (Army)||Black on Olive Drab/ACU||patrol cap||ACU|
|Texas State Guard Maritime Regiment||TEXAS STATE GUARD||Black on MARPAT||Black on MARPAT||Eight-point naval cover|
|Vermont State Guard||VT STATE GUARD||Black on Olive Drab||Black on Olive Drab||patrol cap||BDU|
|Virginia State Defense Force||VA. DEF. FORCE||Black on Olive drab||Gold on Olive drab||patrol cap||BDU|
|Washington State Guard||WASHINGTON||Black on ACU||Black on ACU||patrol cap or beret with green flash||ACU|
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.
|State or Territory||Military Division||Naval Division||State Law|
|Alabama||Alabama State Defense Force||none|
|Alaska||Alaska State Defense Force||Alaska Naval Militia|
|California||California State Military Reserve||California State Military Reserve Naval Militia|
|Connecticut||Connecticut State Militia Units||none|
|District of Columbia||none||none||none|
|Georgia||Georgia State Defense Force||none|
|Guam||Guam militia (inactive)||none|
|Indiana||Indiana Guard Reserve||none|
|Illinois||Illinois State Guard||Illinois Naval Militia|
|Louisiana||Louisiana State Guard||none|
|Maryland||Maryland Defense Force||none|
|Massachusetts||Massachusetts State Guard||none|
|Michigan||Michigan Volunteer Defense Force||none|
|Mississippi||Mississippi State Guard||none|
|New Jersey||New Jersey State Guard||New Jersey Naval Militia|
|New Mexico||New Mexico State Defense Force||none|
|New York||New York Guard||New York Naval Militia|
|Northern Mariana Islands||none||none|
|Ohio||Ohio Military Reserve||Ohio Naval Militia|
|Oregon||Oregon State Defense Force||none|
|Puerto Rico||Puerto Rico State Guard||none|
|South Carolina||South Carolina State Guard||none|
|Tennessee||Tennessee State Guard||none|
|Texas||Texas State Guard||Texas State Guard Maritime Regiment|
|Vermont||Vermont State Guard||none|
|U.S. Virgin Islands||none||none|
|Virginia||Virginia State Defense Force||Riverine Detachment|
|Washington||Washington State Guard||none|