This Sunday, we will observe the 379th birthday of the National Guard. The date commemorates “The First Muster,” when three regiments of volunteer militia were formed on Dec. 13, 1636 in Massachusetts Bay Colony for the purpose of becoming a well-trained and capable defense force.

There is a distinct pride that comes with that heritage, belonging to the long line of our homeland’s defenders. This heritage precedes by nearly seven score years the birth of our nation and the establishment of our Army and Navy as a national military.

The early American militia sought to ensure territorial integrity against incursions by domestic or international powers, and today’s Army and Air National Guard also defend the homeland against foreign and domestic threats. In the 21st century, this role has grown to include the cyber realm, and the National Guard is leading the way in building cyber protection teams across the nation, partnering with local, state and federal agencies in safeguarding critical infrastructure from cyber attacks that could halt or diminish critical services.

The National Guard continues to hone its emergency response role. Beyond responding to devastating stoms, wildfires, floods and civil unrest, the National Guard also has specialized teams to support local authorities in identifying potential weapons of mass destruction as well as rescuing and recovering victims of natural and man-made disasters. We are the nation’s first military responders, and we work closely with local authorities — even conducting periodic and realistic training — to ensure that our response efforts are appropriate to the event. The National Guard’s response to Hurricane Katrina demonstrated how important a trained and ready response force truly is in a large-scale emergency.

And dating back to the Spanish-American War, the National Guard has played an increasingly important role as the nation’s primary combat reserve supporting our overseas operations. During Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, the National Guard validated the Abrams Doctrine of a total force concept — reserve component units serving shoulder-to-shoulder with active duty counterparts. And since 9/11, the National Guard has proven its intrinsic value to our nation by defending our skies, collaborating in multi-agency anti-terror efforts such as Joint Task Force Empire Shield in New York City, and deploying overseas to support such operations as Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, New Dawn, Freedom’s Sentinel and Inherent Resolve.

Our National Guard has never been better trained or more experienced than it is today. This is fortunate, as our responsibilities to the homeland show no signs of diminishing. But maintaining our readiness to respond where we are needed in a timely manner is not easy. We need quality men and women to fill our ranks. We need the support of families and employers who understand and are willing to sacrifice having their service member at home or on the job in those moments when their state or nation calls. And we need appropriate funding to maintain troop strength and training in a time of increasing peril at home and abroad.

The Citizen-Soldier is part of the fabric of our nation, and embodies the noble characteristic of service before self that has always enabled our nation to endure in good times and bad. 379 years of service is something to be proud of, and I am proud of each and every one of our soldiers and airmen in the Wisconsin National Guard.

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