Historical Summary of Maryland Defense Force

Marylanders have a proud heritage of defending and serving their communities in times of war and disaster. From the volunteer colonial militias of the 17th century, to the citizen soldiers that responded to America’s great conflicts when they have touched the state, Maryland has come together to protect our shores and borders in times of distress and disaster. That inherited spirit of service gave birth to The Maryland State Guard during the past two World Wars and is the origin of the Maryland Defense Force.

On April 6, 1917, Congress declared war on Imperial Germany and her allies and entered the Great War raging on the European Continent. Due to a series of legislation that began in 1903, aimed at standardizing the various state militias and creating a viable National Guard, President Wilson called upon the National Guard units of Maryland for service overseas in Europe. Federal mobilization was not new to the Maryland Guard who had just returned from a 1916 tour of duty on the Mexican border. When the National Guard of Maryland was inducted en masse on July 25, 1917, into the Army of the United States, the people of Maryland and the Governor lost control of the only organized and trained defensive body at its disposal and was left naked to acts of aggression, unrest, and disaster.

Responding to fill the void in the states defenses, Maryland State Governor Emerson C. Harrington called for the General Assembly on May 25, 1917 to pass a law for the “organization and maintenance” of a State Guard to protect “public buildings, water supplies and other properties, and . . . public service and industrial plants.” The “State Guard Bill” (S.B.12) was passed unanimously in an unprecedented 10 days, and legally authorized the Governor to:

” recruit (through volunteering or draft), equip, train and otherwise maintain a body of armed troops within this State, to be known as the Maryland State Guard and, empowered the Governor to call the State Guard into active State service when the public interest and safety require.”

On October 23, 1917, Maryland State Adjutant General Henry M. Warfield appointed one of his predecessors, Major General Clinton L. Riggs, as colonel of the newly designated Maryland State Guard and organization and recruitment was done in earnest.

Once again Maryland’s citizens responded to a call to service, and in the vacant armories in and around Baltimore, Hagerstown, Frederick, Salisbury, and Annapolis. Nine companies totaling 34 officers and 518 men turned out twice-weekly to drill and train. Many who volunteered were veterans of the Spanish-American War and the newly formed Guard benefited greatly from their previous training and steady bearing, setting a precedent for the recruitment of former military personnel that continues today. The State Guardsmen did turn out twice, fulfilling their role during their time of service, to keep the peace during controversial criminal trials in Annapolis and Easton in 1919.

As quickly as the State Guard came, it went, officially disbanding on March 1, 1920 making way for the Maryland National Guard to return to their armories. The 1919 Adjutant General report to the Governor assessed the performance of the Maryland State Guard during the Great War as follows:

” I wish to bring to your attention the splendid service which has been rendered by this organization and to testify to the credit which is due the officers and men who responded to the State’s call, and have since served in the State Guard. This service did not present the glamour of service in the Army and as home service it perhaps was not fully appreciated by the people generally, but the character of this service, stripped as it was of all those attractive features of the Army in the field, entitles those who composed this regiment to the thanks and appreciation of our State.”

Nineteen years later Hitler’s 1939 rampage in Europe would open the second chapter in the history of the Maryland State Guard. In response to the growing threat and possibility of involvement in combat operations against the aggressive forces of Germany and Japan, Congress once again inducted the National Guard troops of the 48 states into Federal service during September of 1940.

The clear and consistent use of infiltrated fifth column forces to sabotage, undermine, and prepare a target country for take over was demonstrated in the German invasions of Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, and Denmark in Europe, and Japan’s invasion of Manchuria, China, Korea, and French Indo-China in Asia. These actions in Europe and Asia were properly noted by the War Department, and made the threat of sabotage by outside infiltrated forces or sympathetic indigenous parties once again all to real.

Once again the need arose for an active, trained, and properly equipped force capable of patrolling and providing a competent response to emergencies in the absence of the National Guard. This assessment paved the way for Congress to make an important change to the National Defense Act of 1916, allowing states to form and deploy “such military forces other than the National Guard as may be provided by the laws of such State . . . while any part of the National Guard of the State concerned is in active Federal service.”

This change was important in the role and formation of state defense forces nationwide, because it allowed the various state governments to return to the organization of regulated militia forces even in peacetime for the internal well-being of the state. The new legislation also authorized Federal training assistance and to provide “to any State upon requisition of the Governor thereof, such arms and equipment as can be spared by the War Department.” The law also clarified that these forces could not be called out of their home state by the Federal government for any reason, but eligible individual members would not be exempt from the draft.

The nationwide response to this legislation peaked in June of 1943 with 170,403 members enrolled in 37 states that had activated state defense forces. Maryland responded with the unanimous passage of the State Guard Act on February 14, 1941. The Act expanded and defined the role of the State Guard with greater authority and responsibility in case of activation and detailed a mission of service “in case of insurrection, invasion, tumult, riot, breach of peace or imminent danger thereof, or to enforce the laws of this state with all the authority of sheriffs and deputy sheriffs.”

Following the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Governor O’Conor ordered the entire Maryland State Guard to active duty status. With the close proximity to Washington DC, the guardsmen were acutely aware of their responsibilities. A Federal bulletin was issued warning of a possible Axis powers attack on one or more American seaports set for Christmas Eve 1941. The State Guard was detailed to look after “Air bases, air fields, golf courses, and level open spaces which offer opportunities for potential landing fields, or for landing parachute troops.” By 1942, Army intelligence reassessed an invasion threat as “highly improbable”, but emergency reaction and point security or force protection of sensitive and potentially sensitive installations remained a priority in light of real landings of German agents from submarines on the East Coast during the 1942-1944 period.

Because the civilian workers that made up the State Guard could not be placed on patrol duty for the duration of the war, a Special Military Police unit was established on January 9, 1942 and consisted of 324 officers and men.

In 1942, under the command of Brigadier General Dwight H. Mohr, the state guard consisted of: A brigade headquarters company, with radio section and chemical warfare section, eight infantry battalions, one engineer battalion, one medical battalion, one special military police unit and a African-American battalion commanded by Maj. William Creigler. Muster roles place membership at a high of 2,731 officers and enlisted men enrolled on the muster books for 1944.

Along with the constant patrol activities of the Special Military Police unit, the Maryland State Guard was called out on 11 separate occasions around the state from Elkton to Cumberland from Oct 2, 1941, to August 15, 1945. Missions included: Critical facilities patrols, disaster relief following a flood and tornado, security following two explosions, a large train wreck, and firefighter assistance totaling 129 days on active duty. State Guardsmen were, and are, compensated with pay as their National Guard counterparts when on active duty.

By 1947, the last of the Maryland State Guard formations of WWII were disbanded and once again the role of state defense was returned to the established National Guard units. During the Cold War a variety of Federal and state legislative efforts tried to grapple with the need for additional state troops and to define their role and purpose. At the same time, the standing Army, Reserve, and National Guard were undergoing organizational changes that would establish a clear need for states to have authority to raise and maintain additional forces.

The “Total Force” doctrine adopted by the Army in 1970 clearly expanded the role that National Guard troops would play in future Army deployment plans. If rapid expansion and deployment of force was necessary, Reserve and National Guard units would be called upon first, before the Army turned to a draft to supplement its strength. National Guard units were called upon to change their mission to adopt key logistical and security support roles such as vehicle maintenance and military police functions. This plan was clearly demonstrated in the rapid activation of many National Guard support units in the First Gulf War and worked well.

The states that contributed these units clearly recognized that a rapid call up of their National Guard forces left a defense deficit at home, a void that needed to be supplemented in their own right. Considering the implications for the safety of the state during the spring legislative session of 1983, Maryland took advantage of Federal changes made in 1958 to the language of the National Defense Act of 1916, allowing states to voluntarily maintain forces of their own in times of peace, and passed a reactivation of the State code establishing the Maryland Defense Force on July 1, 1983.

By 1995, twenty-five states revitalized and organized their state defense units to fill the state defense void. As these various organizations were reestablished, the states’ interpretation of their roles and missions varied. In 1994, the Maryland Defense Force was tasked with armory staffing, possible suppression of terrorism, search and rescue, and disaster relief along with community support and youth outreach.

The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the subsequent War on Terrorism crystallized a need for layered state defenses and support organizations. With Reserve and National Guard operational activities at a high not seen since World War II, the Maryland Defense Force has been tasked with a new mission:

“To provide competent supplemental professional and technical support to the Maryland Military Department as required.”

To this end the Maryland Defense Force is actively recruiting professionals with strengths in law, clerical (multi-denominational), medicine, and health care. The response from the citizens of Maryland has been excellent.