“Kentucky National Guard” marks 100th anniversary of change

Story by David Altom, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

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The Kentucky National Guard's Company A, Signal Corps Kentucky, at Fort Thomas, KY. ca. 1917. The name change from "Kentucky State Militia" took place 100 years ago today (Photograph courtesy retired Col. R. P. Watson).

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Fans of the Kentucky National Guard all know that this great organization has been around in one form or another for about 220 years.  (You did know that, didn’t you?)  But did you also know that the name “Kentucky National Guard” officially has only been in existence for 100 years?

It’s true.   On June 24, 1792, the Militia Act was signed into law by Kentucky Governor Isaac Shelby, which recognized the formation of a Kentucky Militia, the forerunner of today’s Kentucky National Guard.  Over the past two hundred and twenty years the Kentucky National Guard has been officially called the Kentucky Militia, Kentucky National Legion and Kentucky State Guard at various times in its history.

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How far we've come: The First Kentucky Machine Gun Company at El Paso, Texas. 1916 Mexican Border Expedition. (Photograph is part of the Col. George M. Chescheir Collection, Kentucky Historical Society.)

But then something happened.  On March 19, 1912, the state of Kentucky made an official name change from the “Kentucky State Guard” to the “Kentucky National Guard.”

How exactly did that happen?  And why?

Enter John Trowbridge, Kentucky National Guard Command Historian.

“The 1912 name change was part of a reform of all state national guards as part of the federal Dick Act,” said Trowbridge.  “That act brought all state militia and guard organizations in line with U.S. Army standards.”

The Dick Act of 1902, also known as the Efficiency of Militia Bill H.R. 11654, of June 28, 1902, divided the nation’s militia into three distinct and separate entities — the National Guard of each state and territory, to include the District of Columbia; the unorganized militia; and the regular army.

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The equipment changes, but the mission is the same. Kentucky National Guard MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. (Photo by U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Kirk Hilbrecht, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs)

The 1902 act was not without controversy.  War was brewing in Europe and the president’s power to order the Organized Militia (the National Guard) to fight a war in Europe led to great national debate.

“One of the most interesting and controversial time periods in our nation and commonwealth’s history is from the turn of the 19th to the 20th centuries up to the First World War,” said Trowbridge.  “Very little has been written about the turmoil of the transition from Kentucky State Guard to its ‘re-birth’ as the Kentucky National Guard and the initial growing pains encountered along the way in the development and evolution to our modern Kentucky National Guard.”

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In defense of the nation -- today's Citizen Soldier represents a legacy that goes back to the founding of our nation. Army Sgt. Russell Golden of HSC, 1204th Aviation Support Bn. training prior to his deployment in support of Operation New Dawn. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Aaron Hiler, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)

Since that time Kentucky has deployed thousands of Citizen Soldiers and Airmen to every major war and conflict our nation has fought.  From the Harrodsburg Tankers of World War II to Firebase Tomahawk in Vietnam and the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Kentuckians have always been on the front lines in defense of our nation.

“Kentucky National Guard Day on June 24 remains the official day that we use to celebrate the history and legacy of the Kentucky Guard,” said Trowbridge.  “That goes far beyond the 100 year mark set by the 1912 name change.”

So you could say that today’s 100th anniversary marks a second birthday of sorts for the Kentucky National Guard.   Just remember that we’ve actually been around for more than 200 years!

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