Military Wiki

State defense forces: army units highlighted in red, naval units in blue, those with both in green, inactive in purple. Puerto Rico is not shown.

State defense forces (SDF) are military units which fall under the command of the governor of a state government in the United States. They may also be known as State Militias, State Military Reserves or State Guards They mirror the National Guard in that they are part-time, reserve forces who fall under the command of the state government. However, they differ from the National Guard in that while the National Guard can be federalized and placed under the command of the President of the United States, the state defense force cannot, and they cannot be deployed outside of their state. State defense units are proscribed in 32 U.S.C. § 109, which states that the state defense forces may not be drafted into federal military service. However, this does not protect individual members from being drafted. In the same law, National Guardsmen and federal reservists may not be a member of a state defense force until released from service. State defense forces operate on a volunteer basis, and usually are not paid for the once or twice a month they drill. Some must provide their own uniforms and equipment. However, if activated, they are usually paid by their state. State defense forces can include army, naval, and air units.


State defense forces began during colonial America. The colonies would draft able-bodied men into the state militia to protect colonists from attacks by Native Americans, and later, the French during the French and Indian War . During the American Revolution, these state militias would augment the Continental Army. Following the establishment of the United States until 1903, the United States maintained a small full-time military, augmented by volunteers from state militias in times of war. However, the Dick Act of 1903 established the National Guard as a state militia which could also be called into war as an army reserve. Congress added further clarification to this law in 1933 by requiring all National Guard members to take a dual state (Title 32) and federal (Title 10) enlistment or commission. As a result, many states created state defense forces to fill the gaps when National Guard units were deployed. This meant that during World War 1 and World War II, states had to form their own forces to guard the now-empty National Guard bases, protect against sabotage, defend borders and coastlines, and respond to disasters. During World War 1 alone, around 100,000 state guard soldiers guarded key infrastructure.  In recent years, they have been revitalized as states have had their National Guard units called up to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. Modern state defense forces generally serve as disaster relief and as medical or legal specialists who may assist the state's National Guard members.


State defense forces can serve in many different opportunities. They generally act as a force multiplier for the National Guard, working non-combat services such as

  • Administration
  • Aviation Support
  • Chemical & Radiation Decontamination
  • Civil Affairs
  • Communications
  • Judge Advocate General
  • Logistics
  • Medical
  • Military Police
  • Search and Rescue
  • Transportation

State defense forces primarily serve as first responders to natural disasters. In 2012, New York Guard units responded alongside their National Guard counterparts to assist in recovery from Hurricane Sandy. In 2005, Tennessee State Guard soldiers assisted in sheltering the flood of refugees fleeing New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. State defense forces also offer extra manpower during critical moments. Immediately after 9/11, state defense forces were called up to provide extra security for military facilities, and the New York Guard and New York Naval Militia aided in recovery. In 2011, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law a bill to create a state militia in order to fill the gaps in security along the U.S.-Mexico border after the federal government proved incapable of protecting it. State defense soldiers have an extra advantage in that since they are not federal military units, they are not barred by Posse Comitatus laws from performing law enforcement duties.

Georgia State Defense Force members help recertify Georgia Army National Guard medics in CPR/AED.

Other units may serve in a specialized capacity. The 10th Medical Regiment of the Maryland Defense Force deployed on a voluntary basis to New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and served with distinction. As part of their practice, they immunize and otherwise medically prepare the state's National Guard units for deployment. The  121st Engineer Regiment of the Maryland Defense force currently conductions all of the state's military facilities. The Texas State Guard Medical Brigade and 1st Medical Company of the Georgia Defense Force also train as first responders in the event of a statewide emergency. Judge Advocate General (JAG) units can assist National Guard members with legal issues such as home foreclosure during deployments, child custody issues, and can even draft wills for soldiers. Chaplains may also be recruited, not only to serve their state defense force but also to serve the National Guard under temporarily duty assignment (TDA). The Tennessee State Guard maintains a Special Operations branch.


Training varies widely from state to state. Some states, such as New York, require members without military experience to go through Initial Entry Training (IET) for a week at Camp Smith, and then choose a class in a specific military occupational specialty. Other states, such as the Massachusetts State Defense Force, offer no initial training, and only allow previous military members into their ranks. However, most of these states which require military experience offer exceptions for those with professional skills, such as engineering, medical, or law degrees. Prospective soldiers may also be required to take advantage of certain free online training classes offered to all American citizens by FEMA or other agencies. Drills occur once a month in most cases, generally on a single weekend day, although some units may meet twice a month. During these drills, soldiers practice their skills and learn new techniques.


State defense forces may not be funded by the federal government, according to federal law. This means that while the state itself may pay for uniforms, vehicles, and training, state defense forces cannot use federal military equipment, or that of the National Guard, as the National Guard is funded in part by the federal government. However, the use of training facilities is not considered using equipment, so most state defense organizations hold their drills on local National Guard bases, and the 1st Regiment of the Tennessee State Guard is headquartered in and drills at the Naval Support Activity Mid-South naval station, a federal naval property. Uniforms are usually paid for by the individual soldier, but may be provided by the state defense force, or ordered in bulk on discount. These uniforms are usually almost identical to the regular military's, using either the BDU (battle dress uniform) or ACU (army combat uniform) depending on the state, often with a patch indicating the state defense force designation. Although most units augment the National Guard by filling non-combat rules and therefore go unarmed, many state laws have provisions to allow the arming of these forces in the event of an emergency, at the governor's discression. 

Advantages and disadvantages


A state defense force is an effective force-multiplier for any state's National Guard. Aside from filling in the gaps in a National Guard which may have troops deployed, the state defense force is also cost-effective. These soldiers often do not receive pay for their drilling, and perform duties at a low cost, or no cost, that would cost millions of dollars each year through either private contractors or activating National Guardsmen. Also, state defense units may be specially trained to serve as a niche service that the state's National Guard does not have. For example, the Georgia State Defense Force is trained in Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosives (CBRNE) capabilities. Members may have full-time careers which bring invaluable experience to the organization in a way that a full-time soldier could not. Most importantly, members live within their own homes scattered across the state, so they can often be among the first responders to a disaster zone, whereas federal assets take time to be deployed. Even if not called out for an extended deployment, local members can augment first responders and local National Guard until statewide deployment is finalized. It is also easier and cheaper to set up a state defense force unit in the vicinity of a key infrastructure, such as a power plant or a pipeline, than to have the state or federal government build up an entirely new military base or National Guard facility from scratch. Also, state soldiers can serve as reserve law enforcement, whereas legally, federal military personnel cannot.


Currently, SDF's suffer from a lack of funding, manpower, and training. In the United States, state defense forces are often not well-known. When they are, they suffer from unbased stereotyping. Detractors claim that these organizations are filled with right-wing extremists, or former military personnel who only wish to play soldier. Other critics suggest that they are a haven for anti-federal government activists. Due to  the fact that most members are former military members who keep their retirement ranks, there is an inflated ranking system within most state defense forces. States who do not yet have formal training for members and only recruit former military often have older, less physically capable members. These states may be missing out on a large and capable pool of younger, ideally situated volunteers, such as stay-at-home moms or college students, two large demographics which have served with distinction in states like New York and California, two states which provide training for members without military backgrounds. A lack of clear-cut missions may also hamper morale and preparedness. Although some of these trends have begun to be reversed since 9/11 with the revitalization of state defense forces, there is much to be done before they can become integrated as vital assets.

List of states defense forces

State Army Division Naval Division
Alabama Alabama State Defense Force none
Alaska Alaska State Defense Force Alaska Naval Militia
Arizona in development none
California California State Military Reserve California Naval Militia
Connecticut four ceremonial companies none
Georgia Georgia State Defense Force none
Indiana Indiana Guard Reserve none
Illinois none Illinois Naval Militia
Kentucky Inactive none
Louisiana Louisiana State Guard none
Maryland Maryland Defense Force none
Massachusetts Massachusetts State Defense Force none
Michigan Michigan Volunteer Defense Force none
Mississippi Mississippi State Guard none
New Jersey none New Jersey Naval Militia
New Mexico New Mexico State Guard none
New York New York Guard New York Naval Militia
Ohio Ohio Military Reserve Ohio Naval Militia
Oklahoma inactive none
Oregon Oregon State Defense Force none
Puerto Rico Puerto Rico State Guard none
South Carolina South Caroline State Guard none
Tennessee Tennessee State Guard none
Texas Texas State Guard Texas State Guard Maritime Regiment
Vermont Vermont State Guard none
Virginia Virginia State Defense Force Riverine Detachment
Washington Washington State Guard none

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