Pennsylvania National Guard History

 

For more than 270 years the Pennsylvania National Guard has provided protection and support to the citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the nation as a whole. In times of war, civil strife, and natural disasters, our Soldiers and Airmen have stepped forward and lived up to the National Guard motto of “Civilian in peace, Soldier in war.”

Our organization has a rich and distinguished heritage dating back to 1747 when Ben Franklin created the Associators in Philadelphia. Having overcome the long pacifist tradition of Pennsylvania's founding Quakers, Benjamin Franklin lead approximately 600 "gentlemen and merchants" of Philadelphia in signing the “Articles of Association” to provide for a common defense against Indian raiders and French privateers. These "Associators" (today's 111th Infantry Regiment and 103d Brigade Engineer Battalion) are recognized as the foundation of the Pennsylvania National Guard. Within months, the Philadelphia Associators had brother units throughout the populated Commonwealth.

In 1755, the Pennsylvania Assembly passed the first Militia Act within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It formally authorized a volunteer militia.

It was in 1775, at the start of the American Revolution, that The First Troop, Philadelphia City Cavalry (FTPCC) escorted General George Washington to New York to take command of the Continental Army. The Army's first units included a regiment of rifle companies from Pennsylvania. During the American Revolution (1775-1783) Pennsylvania supplied 6,000 troops (4,500 of them Associators) for military operations in New York. One unit, the Philadelphia Artillery Battalion, lives on as today's 103d Brigade Engineer Battalion. In all, tens of thousands of Pennsylvania Soldiers were called to service over the next seven years.

After the American Revolution, the nation was put to the test when the militia in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was called upon to put down fellow citizens in the western part of the state during the Whiskey Rebellion (1791-1794). More than 4,000 militiamen from Pennsylvania served.

During the War of 1812 (1812-1815) our forces again volunteered to defend the nation and the Commonwealth. Altogether, more than 14,000 Pennsylvanians actively served. During the Battle of Lake Erie, an artillery company provided volunteers to serve as cannoneers on Commodore Perry's fleet. That unit is known today as Wilkes-Barre's 109th Field Artillery Regiment.

During the Mexican War (1846-1848) Pennsylvania provided two regiments of volunteer militiamen from across the Commonwealth. Many of these companies that answered the call were already formed from existing regiments within Pennsylvania’s militia structure.

When President Lincoln took office the country was plunged into a great Civil War over the issue of state’s rights and the major issue of slavery. The war was fought from 1861-1865 and saw vast changes in warfare. During the Civil War, after President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to fight for the union, five units from the Lehigh Valley were quickly assembled and sent for protection. Lincoln called them “The First Defenders.” These guardsmen are the predecessors of today’s 213th Regional Support Group (RSG) based out of Allentown. More than 200 Pennsylvania Regiments took part in the American Civil War in 24 major campaigns.

On April 7, 1870, the term “militia” was replaced with the “National Guard of Pennsylvania” (N.G.P.).

In 1877, thousands of Pennsylvania Guardsman were called up to restore order in the face of a violent statewide railroad strike. The rioting was worst in Pittsburgh. Five Guardsman and 20 civilians were killed in the violence.

In early 1879, Pennsylvania combined several divisions of National Guard units into a single Guard division. The division became known as the Pennsylvania Division. In June 1916, the division was designated the 7th Division, part of the reorganization of the National Guard. It was mustered and was sent to the Mexican Border at El Paso, Texas. On September 1, 1917, the division was again redesignated as the 28th Division under the War Department. The division was yet again redesignated during World War II as the 28th Infantry Division when the military grew to have Armored, Airborne and Mountain divisions within its rank structure. Today’s 28th Infantry Division is also the only division to have nine days for its birthday. Its official birthday is from 12-20 March 1879. It is the oldest division in the entire U. S. Army by nearly 38 years.

In 1885, Pennsylvania began to have encampments at Mt. Gretna State Military Reservation. As the reservation grew in land area, so did the infrastructure of the training grounds. Originally, there were approximately 15 buildings on the reservation in that first year. By 1935, there were 340 buildings, a complete sewer system and disposal plan with more than 10 miles of pipe, 14 miles of water pipe, and 7.5 miles of macadam roads on the reservation. One of the best athletic fields in the Commonwealth was built here just east of what is known as the Timbers areas, which can accommodate more than 5,000 spectators and 1,200 athletes. The military also had their own saw mill, which produced approximately 41,000 board feet each year.           

In 1898, the entire Pennsylvania division was mobilized and mustered into federal service at Mount Gretna for the Spanish-American War. Pennsylvania Guard units saw action in Puerto Rico and the Philippines.

Again in 1916, mobilization of the Commonwealth citizens occurred at Mt. Gretna for service on the Mexican Border. As troops began to come home, their mobilizations continued into the Great War, known today as World War I. After the war, encampments at Mt. Gretna alternated between there and at Gettysburg. Multiple times Regular Army units trained alongside National Guard Troops at Mt. Gretna.

The Pennsylvania division, now known as the 28th Division, was called up in the wake of America's entry into World War I (1917-1918). America entered the war during the last two years. The division took part in six major campaigns in France and Belgium resulting in more than 14,000 battle casualties. With its entry into the war, the American forces helped turn the tide to the Allied victory. The 28th Division’s ferocity in combat earned it the title "Iron Division" from General John “Black Jack” Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF).

In 1924, the 103d Observation Squadron was organized at the Philadelphia Airport under the 28th Division. After World War II, the unit became the forerunner of today’s Pennsylvania Air National Guard.

Beginning in the early 1930s, a study was conducted to expand the site at Mount Gretna. Recommendations were made to abandon it for the larger and current training site located at today’s Fort Indiantown Gap. By 1935, no less than 250,000 Soldiers had trained at the Mount Gretna State Military Reservation.

By 1939, the world was once again at war. Ten months before Pearl Harbor, the 28th Division was ordered into federal service. After America entered World War II (1941-1945), the division trained extensively, both in the homeland and abroad in England and Wales. Landing in France after D-Day, the division fought through Normandy, helped liberate Paris, and ended up bitterly engaged along the "West Wall" of Germany in November 1944. One month later, during the Battle of the Bulge, the division proved instrumental in stalling the last German offensive of the war. The German High Command nicknamed the division "Bloody Bucket" following the fierce battles of the Hurtgen Forest and the Bulge. The unit suffered more than 25,000 casualties of which 2,000 were killed in action. Elsewhere in the war, the division's 111th Regiment was detached to serve in the Pacific; Pennsylvania's 213th Regiment saw action in North Africa and Italy, while other units served across the globe.

In 1947, The Pennsylvania Air National Guard was formally established.

For its efforts during the Korean War (1950-1953), the 28th Infantry Division was mobilized to reinforce NATO forces and was sent to Germany. Several other Pennsylvania National Guard units saw active service in Korea. On September 11, 1950, in route to Camp Atterbury, Indiana, the 109th Field Artillery suffered a train wreck in which another train on the same track ran into the rear of the troop train, killing 33 service members from two different batteries. More than 1,000 National Guardsmen from various sections of the State, who had not been summoned for federal service, acted as a guard of honor for the bodies. Police estimated 200,000 persons paid homage as they lined the streets.

Pennsylvania Air National Guard airlift units flew 134 supply missions to Vietnam between during 1966-1967, becoming the first reserve air force to ever enter a combat zone without actually being mobilized.

In 1972, the worst natural disaster to-date struck the Commonwealth occurred, Tropical Storm Agnes. As a result of the extensive damage caused by storms and flooding, the Pennsylvania National Guard was engaged in relief operations. The storm hit June 21, 1972. Guard units began relief operations from June 22 through August 6, 1972. It affected 122 communities in 35 out of the 67 Pennsylvania counties, with the hardest hit area being the Wyoming Valley region (Wilkes-Barre in Luzerne County). More than 55,000 homes were completely destroyed, thousands of additional homes damaged, and 126 bridges destroyed. There were more than $35 million in crop damages, more than 200,000 telephones out of service, 49 deaths, and property damages well over $3 billion dollars. For the National Guard, a major call up was ordered. There were 12,036 Army National Guard and 644 Air National Guard members, for a total of 12,680 Pennsylvania National Guard personnel on duty during the flood.

During the invasion of Grenada (1983) the Pennsylvania Air Guard's 193d Special Operations Group (today’s 193d Special Operations Wing) provided airborne broadcasting and surveillance during the U.S. invasion. Later missions in Panama, Haiti and elsewhere earned the 193rd the distinction of being the most-deployed unit in the entire Air Force.

From 1990-1991 eight Army and Air Guard units from Pennsylvania mobilized for duty in Southwest Asia during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Every member returned home safely.

In 1993, the Pennsylvania National Guard launched a military State Partnership Program (SPP) with the government of Lithuania, as part of a U.S. initiative to promote the growth of democratic institutions among the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union.

During the various state active duty missions in 1996, Pennsylvania Guard members opened roads, transported doctors and patients, and mounted heroic helicopter rescue operations during statewide flooding and blizzards.

Between 1996 and 2001, hundreds of Pennsylvania Soldiers and Airmen deployed to Germany, Hungary, and Bosnia in support of United Nations peacekeeping efforts in the former Yugoslavia.

On September 11, 2001, America suffered the largest attacks since Pearl Harbor. For the first time in Guard history, both state and federal chain of commands were activated in response to the terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington D.C., and Shanksville, PA. Pennsylvania National Guard forces also responded to one of the hijacked aircraft (Flight 93) that went down in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Approximately 1,100 28th Infantry Division Soldiers became the command element of NATO peacekeeping operations in Bosnia from 2002-2003.

28th Infantry Division units become the first Guard command element for peacekeeping operations in eastern Kosovo from 2003-2004. The 213th Area Support Group, Co. G, 104th Aviation and several smaller support units deployed in support of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom.

Approximately 2,000 Pennsylvania Soldiers and Airmen were deployed in 2004 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom to search for weapons of mass destruction, provide convoy security, rebuild infrastructure, and protect senior officials.         

Approximately 750 Soldiers assigned to Task Force Dragoon helped to protect 29 polling locations during Iraq’s first free election in 2005. Task Force Dragoon units returned home in November. An additional 2,100 Soldiers from the 28th Infantry Division's 2d Brigade Combat Team, augmented by 2,000 Soldiers from 30 other states, touched down in Iraq in June. Known as the "Iron Brigade," Soldiers conducted convoy escorts and patrols, and provided training for Iraqi civil defense forces.

On September 1, 2005, Governor Edward G. Rendell mobilized 2,500 Pennsylvania Army and Air National Guard members to support hurricane disaster relief efforts along the Gulf Coast. Pennsylvania National Guard personnel arrived over the weekend of September 3-5. The relief mission lasted approximately 30 days.

Various state active duty missions, such as flood response, occurred throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 2006. These missions were supported by a number of units including the 213th Area Support Group.

2007 was a major year for the Pennsylvania National Guard. There were 380 Soldiers from 3d Battalion, 103d Armored Regiment that deployed to Afghanistan. At the same time, approximately 400 Soldiers of the 104th Calvary departed for a deployment to the Sinai Peninsula. Members of these troops stood watch along the border between Egypt and Israel to ensure that the 1978 Camp David Accords peace agreement was upheld. Units from the 213th ADA Battalion, 131st Transportation Company, 104th Aviation, 228th Brigade Support Battalion, 107th Field Artillery, and 28th Division Support Command returned from their overseas deployments. Both Army and Air National Guard members deployed to the Mexican Border. Members of the 201st Red Horse Squadron (RHS) helped construct new roads and border wall sections.

During the same year, Pennsylvania held ground breaking ceremonies across the Commonwealth at various new facilities that were constructed to support the fielding of the 56th Stryker Brigade. This was a $1.5 billion dollar program that transformed the 56th from an Infantry to a Stryker Brigade. This transformation makes it the largest funded program undertaken by the Pennsylvania National Guard in modern history.

In 2008, units from the 2nd Infantry Brigade, 28th Aviation Brigade, and 56th Stryker Brigade began training for overseas deployments. Units of the 55th Armored Brigade were currently overseas. Various Air Guard units including the 111th Fighter Wing, 171st Air Refueling Wing, and 193d Special Operations Wing conducted various support missions around the world.

The Pennsylvania National Guard provided security in 2009 at the third meeting of the G-20 Summit. The G20 is the premier forum for discussing, planning and monitoring international economic cooperation. The summit was held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh. National Guard members were spread out in a number locations around the city for operational support of the summit.

In 2010 the governor of Pennsylvania mobilized members of the 193rd Special Operations Wing (SOW) to take part in a humanitarian assistance mission in Haiti, which was impacted by a major earthquake.

Pennsylvania participated in Saber Strike in Estonia in 2012, a multinational exercise. Members of eight countries participated in this joint training operation.

Like the G-20 Summit a few years earlier, in 2015, Pope Francis conducted a five-day Papal visit to Philadelphia. Pennsylvania National Guard members worked alongside a number of other federal agencies in support of this multi-day event.

In 2018, the State Partnership Program (SPP) between the Pennsylvania National Guard and Lithuania celebrated its 25 year partnership. The 28th Infantry Division sent 500 Soldiers to support Operation Spartan Shield in the Middle East, located in both Kuwait and Jordan.

In 2019, several hundred Soldiers of the 3rd Squadron, 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment deployed overseas to Poland for a NATO mission.

Today, the Pennsylvania National Guard is one of the largest and one of the most deployed state National Guards in the nation. We have deployed worldwide more than 35,000 times since 9-11. Some of our members have deployed upwards of three or four times, serving in regions of Europe, Africa, and Asia in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Egypt, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan, and Poland. Today we take a moment to reflect upon the service or our members, both past and present.

History Inquiries

 Command Historian

Pennsylvania National Guard
Bldg. 8-41, Fort Indiantown Gap
Annville, PA 17003-5002
Phone: 717-861-2464