History of the Maryland Defense Force

World War I 1917 – 1919

On April 6, 1917, Congress declared war on Imperial Germany and her allies and entered the Great War raging on the European Continent and around the globe. Before the war a series of legislation begun in 1903 was aimed at standardizing the various state militias and creating a modern National Guard.  After the various states had modernized their respective National Guards, President Wilson called upon them for service overseas in Europe. Federal mobilization was not new to units of the Maryland National Guard who had just returned from a 1916 tour of duty on the Mexican border.

When the Maryland National Guard was activated and inducted en masse into federal service on July 25, 1917, the people of Maryland and the Governor lost control of their primary organized and trained military force. Maryland was essentially defenseless to acts of aggression, terror, unrest, and natural disaster. Anticipating the need to fill the void in the Maryland’s defenses, Governor Emerson C. Harrington called for the Maryland 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 begun 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 volunteers began to enlist. 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 State Guard benefited greatly from their previous training and steady bearing, setting a precedent for the recruitment of former military personnel, a tradition that continues today. The State Guardsmen were activated twice, fulfilling their role during their time of service, to keep the peace during controversial criminal trials in Annapolis and Easton in 1919.

After the National Guard returned from Europe, the State Guard was quickly supplanted and was officially stood down on March 1, 1920 making way for the Maryland National Guard to return to their armories. The 1919 Adjutant General’s 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.”

World War II 1940-1947

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 called the Maryland National Guard into federal service. The federal government inducted the troops of the 48 states into Federal service on February 3, 1941.

During September of 1940.The clear and consistent use of “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 within the United States by outside infiltrated forces or sympathetic indigenous parties once again all too 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 and did not exempt eligible individual members from the Selective Service (draft) requirement.

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 early 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 an African-American battalion commanded by Maj. William Creigler. Nationwide enlistment in state guards peaked in June of 1943 with 170,403 members enrolled in 37 states that had activated state defense forces. Muster rolls in Maryland place membership at a high of 2,731 officers and enlisted men in 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 fire-fighting assistance totaling 129 days on active duty. State Guardsmen were 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 stood down 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 regular Army, Reserve Components, and National Guard were undergoing organizational changes that would establish a clear need for states to have authority to raise and maintain additional forces.

Expanded Role of the National Guard 1970 – 2001

The “Total Force” doctrine adopted by the Army in 1970 drastically expanded the role that National Guard troops would play in future Army deployment plans. If rapid expansion and deployment of forces was necessary, Reserve and National Guard units would be called upon first before the Department of Defense 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 its 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. The Maryland Legislature passed a reactivation of the State code reestablishing the Maryland Defense Force on July 1, 1983. By 1995, twenty-five states had revitalized and organized their state defense units to fill the state defense void. As these various organizations were re-established, the interpretation of roles and missions varied from state to state. 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.

Post September 11, 2001 – Present

The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the subsequent War on Terror 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.” In September 2005, as a result of Hurricane Katrina flooding New Orleans, the Maryland Defense Force supported the disaster relief effort as the National Guard was not equipped to engage in such a mission. The MDDF quickly assembled a medical detachment which was flown to New Orleans, LA. Over 300 personnel consisting of doctors, nurses, physician’s assistants and support personnel served for 3 weeks, operating 7 clinics for 21 days and treating over 7000 patients.

The MDDF conducted a second out of state mission in 2006 to Bosnia-Herzegovina providing medical care to people in remote mountain villages. More recently, the MDDF has been called to serve during hurricanes and severe storms that have left Maryland citizens without food, water and power. Moreover, as the National Guard has been deployed overseas, the MDDF has conducted some regular National Guard functions involving medical, legal, chaplain, cyber security, engineering, financial and operating assistance at various unit headquarters .

To this end the Maryland Defense Force continues to actively recruit professionals with experience in cyber security, engineering and construction, clerical (multi-denominational), medicine, and healthcare fields. With a century of service to its credit, the Maryland Defense Force continues to provide support and service to the State of Maryland, its military forces and its people.