Picture of the NC State Defense Force Militia

The 21st-Century Militia: State Defense Forces and Homeland Security

Overview: State militias have helped to defend the United States since the Revolutionary War. Today, 23 states and territories have organized militias, most commonly known as State Defense Forces (SDFs). SDFs provide governors with a cost-effective, vital force multiplier and resource, especially if state National Guard units are deployed out of state. However, in general, SDFs are underfunded and undersupported. Some states at high risk for a natural or man-made disaster have not even created SDFs. The U.S. and its states can no longer afford to sideline these national security assets.

Source: The Heritage Foundation conducted a comprehensive 50-state study on State Defense Forces and Homeland Security and published their report in 2010. Below are a few notable sections from their report and a link to the full report at the end. It should be noted that not all State Defense Forces fall under the purview of the Governor of their state such as in the case of the NC State Defense Forces.

From Wikipedia: Activities of the NCSDM were temporarily suspended in April 1996 by the North Carolina Adjutant General. This suspension was due to a workers’ compensation claim, and a review of the workers’ compensation laws regarding the North Carolina State Defense Militia.[5] This temporary suspension is still in effect. A non-governmental organization trying to defray the suspension is the North Carolina State Defense Force which also has its own website.[6] — (Footnote 6 references the current NC State Defense Force here at https://nc.sdfunited.org)

The Modern Militia: State Defense Forces

At present, 23 states and territories have SDFs, and their estimated force strength totaled 14,000 members as of 2005.[21] Authorized under federal statute Title 32 of the U.S. Code, SDFs are entirely under state control—unlike the National Guard— both in peace and otherwise.[22] Hence, while the National Guard is a dual-apportioned force that can be called to federal service under Title 10 or remain a state force under Title 32, State Defense Forces serve solely as Title 32 forces.

This status gives SDFs two important advantages. First, SDFs are continually stationed within their respective states and can be called up quickly and easily in times of need. Such a capability is particularly important when catastrophic disasters overwhelm local first responders and federal forces can take up to 72 hours to respond.[23] Second, SDFs are exempt from the restrictions of the Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits federal military forces from engaging in domestic law enforcement activities within the United States.[24] While the Posse Comitatus Act has never proven a major obstacle to deploying federal forces for domestic emergency response, SDFs permit a state military response uninhibited by legal obstacles.[25]

Each SDF is under the control of its respective governor through the state’s military department.[26] The Adjutant General, the state’s senior military commander and a member of the governor’s cabinet, commands the SDF on behalf of the governor. As SDF commander, TAG is responsible for all training, equipment allocation, and decisions regarding the SDF’s strength, activity, and mission. The Adjutant General is also the commander of the state’s National Guard units and often directs state emergency response.[27] Through TAGs, SDFs can easily coordinate with other key components of the state emergency response.

Despite its recognition in federal statute, creation of a State Defense Force remains at the discretion of each state governor, and 28 states have chosen not to create such forces. Creation of SDFs has met resistance from TAGs and the National Guard Bureau due to concerns over turf, costs, and even arming SDF members.[28]However, such objections make little sense given that SDFs are entirely volunteer organizations and offer the states a vital, low-cost force multiplier. Members are not paid for training, only some states compensate them for active duty, and SDFs generally have little equipment.[29] For example, in 2002 alone, the Georgia State Guard reportedly saved the state of Georgia $1.5 million by providing 1,797 days of operational service to the state.[30] In all, the state-apportioned status, organizational structure, and low-cost burden of SDFs make them a vital and practical resource for the states.

State Defense Forces Post-9/11

Only months before 9/11, the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century (the Hart– Rudman Commission) suggested making homeland security the primary mission of the National Guard.[31] However, after September 11, 2001, National Guard deployments reached their highest level since the Korean War.[32] This was understandably troubling to many state leaders given that “[g]overnors have the greatest responsibility for managing consequences of attacks,” but “[t]hey have the fewest resources with which to do it…only the state police and the National Guard to provide for law and order.”[33] In recent years, the high levels of National Guard deployment largely removed this resource from numerous states. Even in the states where National Guard forces remain present, the Guard is maintaining only about 62 percent of its equipment on hand for the states because of overseas deployments.[34] This has left some governors with just state police units to help to maintain security and facilitate emergency response. In addition, an emergency, particularly a catastrophic disaster, could quickly overwhelm state police and other first responders. If National Guard forces are unavailable because they are deployed elsewhere, then the state could rely on its SDF, if it has one, to reinforce police and first responders. While largely underdeveloped and underresourced, SDFs can fill this gap in state homeland security capabilities, giving governors a valuable force multiplier.

In recent years, State Defense Forces have proven vital to homeland security and emergency response efforts. For example, after 9/11, the New York Guard, New York Naval Militia, and New Jersey Naval Militia were activated to assist in response measures, recovery efforts, and critical infrastructure security.[35] An estimated 2,274 SDF personnel participated in support of recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina. SDF personnel were activated in at least eight states, including Texas, Maryland, Virginia, and Tennessee. They assisted directly with recovery efforts or stayed in their states to fill the roles of the state National Guard units that were deployed to assist in the recovery.[36] SDFs have also offered critical infrastructure protection. In Operation Noble Eagle, the homeland defense and civil support operation after 9/11, the Alaskan SDF aided in the efforts to protect the Alaska oil pipeline.[37]

History suggests that State Defense Forces may be most valuable in assisting the states in emergency response. In the event of a natural or man-made disaster, the first tier of response is state and local first responders. However, Hurricane Katrina exposed a vital difference between a “normal” disaster and a catastrophic disaster.[38] A catastrophic disaster quickly stresses the resources and capabilities of state and local responders. In such cases, the Title 32 National Guard troops can serve as the second tier of response. Yet given the National Guard’s high operational tempo over the past decade, the state Guard units may be unavailable. Likewise, the third tier, federal support in the form of reserve troops or FEMA assistance, may take up to 72 hours to mobilize and arrive at the scene of the disaster.[39] In contrast, State Defense Forces are by their nature located nearby. They also know the area and the resources at hand, giving them the potential to be a key element of emergency response for the states.

Besides being readily available and continually stationed within states, SDFs can carry out state homeland security missions without any major reorganization, which would be required if Congress were to implement the Hart–Rudman Commission’s recommendation to task the National Guard with this role. Furthermore, by assuming greater homeland security responsibility, SDFs would allow the National Guard to focus more on their Title 10 mission in the global war on terrorism. Moreover, unlike the dual-apportioned National Guard, State Defense Forces could focus more completely on homeland security than the National Guard.

Challenges Faced

State Defense Forces offer an important homeland security asset to many states, but several challenges have prevented these forces from reaching their full potential. Existing SDFs are often underfunded and undersupported, and some vulnerable states have not yet formed SDFs.

One of the greatest challenges to the creation and maintenance of State Defense Forces across the nation is ignorance among state and national security leaders. Many of these leaders are fundamentally unaware of the existence and capabilities of SDFs. This is largely a public relations nightmare for the SDFs because this general ignorance greatly impedes SDF leaders’ efforts to make their cause and merits known.

However, lack of awareness is not the SDFs’ only major public relations challenge. Often those who are aware of SDFs confuse them with private militia forces associated with radical organizations. State Defense Forces are the modern state militias. These forces are government-authorized, organized, professional militias, in sharp contrast to their radical “counterparts.”

SDFs are also limited by the restriction forbidding them from receiving in-kind support from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). While SDFs should remain funded solely by the states, in-kind support in the form of equipment and facilities would enhance SDF training and capabilities. However, because the DOD does not directly support SDFs, they cannot use federal resources, even surplus federal equipment and supplies. This is particularly challenging given that many SDFs work closely with their state National Guards. Nevertheless, SDFs are not permitted to use Guard facilities, trucks, or equipment, even when state National Guard troops are deployed elsewhere and SDFs are filling in during their absence.

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