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National Guard celebrates 372nd birthday

Among world’s oldest military organizations

By Renee Hylton
National Guard Bureau

ARLINGTON, Va. - The United States is a young country, but four of the oldest military organizations in the world are in our country’s National Guard.

The National Guard is celebrating its 372nd birthday this year. On Dec. 13, 1636, the Massachusetts Bay Colony divided its citizen-soldiers, or militia, into the North, South and East Regiments.

The Massachusetts Bay Colony was seven years old in 1636. About 5,000 men, women, and children had made the two-month voyage to the New World, leaving the relative comfort and safety of England behind.

In Massachusetts, they confronted a wilderness of dense forests, wild animals and suspicious Indians.

The colonists needed a military force for protection, but they had no money to hire a mercenary army, which was common practice in Europe at the time.

So, they turned to the English tradition of the militia – citizen-soldiers who gathered for military training and who could fight when needed.

In Massachusetts, all able-bodied men between the ages of 16 and 60, except ministers and judges, were required to join the militia.

By 1636, the militia of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was large enough to be divided into three separate regiments.

Today, the military lineage of these 1636 regiments is carried by the 101st Engineer Battalion, the 101st Field Artillery, the 181st Infantry, and the 182nd Cavalry, which are all still part of the Massachusetts Army National Guard.

These four units, in one form or another, have been in continuous service since 1636, and are the oldest units in the U.S. Army.

Not many military organizations can claim 372 years of unbroken history.

London's Honorable Artillery Company (1537), a unit of citizen-soldiers which is the oldest in the British Army. Amazingly, considering how much older Britain is than the United States, only one other regiment of the British Army, the Royal Scots (1633), predates our National Guard’s oldest units.

Much has changed in this country since 1636, but one thing has not: citizen-soldiers still gather to train and deploy as they have for 372 years.