Kentucky National Guard celebrates 230th birthday

  • Published
  • By Dale Greer
  • 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Airmen and Soldiers from across the Commonwealth gathered here Friday to celebrate the 230th birthday of the Kentucky National Guard, one of the nation’s oldest state militias.

Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Wilkinson, the Kentucky Guard’s assistant adjutant general for Air, expressed his appreciation to the more than 100 troops who attended the ceremony, held at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base at Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport.

“I would like to thank you for being here today to celebrate and honor the Kentucky National Guard, a proud organization with an unsurpassed legacy of service to the nation, and to thank you for your continued commitment to carry us into the future,” he said.

The Kentucky Guard, which today is comprised of the Kentucky Army National Guard and the Kentucky Air National Guard, was established in 1792 by Gov. Isaac Shelby, 19 days after the Commonwealth became the 15th state of the Union.

Over the past 230 years, the organization has grown to fill a dual role as both a state militia, responding to the needs of Kentucky during times of local crisis and natural disasters; and as a front-line federal force, serving the needs of the nation alongside active-duty counterparts in the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force. Since Sept. 11, 2001 alone, Airmen and Soldiers of the Kentucky National Guard have deployed more than 18,000 times for combat and combat-support roles at dozens of locations around the world in the Global War on Terror.

“The Kentucky national guard has been known under various names and has the distinction of being one the oldest military forces in the United States,” said Andrew Dickson, the Kentucky Guard’s command historian.

“Its history dates back to 1775 when Kentucky was the Western part of Virginia known as Fincastle County. The Kentucky National Guard was originally known as the local militia under the command of Capt. James Harrod, in which the militiamen were to serve as a self-protective association against hostile actions from both foreign and native attacks.

“On the first day of June, 1792, the Commonwealth of Kentucky became the 15th state of the Union. On June 20, Gov. Isaac Shelby approved and signed the enrolled bill titled “An Act to Arrange the Militia of This State Into Divisions, Brigades, Regiments, Battalions, and Companies, and for Other Purposes.”

In 1812, open war broke out with Britain. The Kentucky Militia responded to the call to arms with its first major engagements, seeing action in battles such as River Raisin, Lake Erie, Thames and New Orleans.

While many states withheld their troops from serving, approximately 24,000 Kentuckians volunteered to fight, and about 1,200 were casualties, Dickson said. Somewhere between 30 and 55 percent of Americans killed in the war were Kentuckians.

“Kentuckians made their mark on the Battle of New Orleans, the final battle of the war,” he added. “In 1832, an unidentified British Officer wrote an article in a Boston newspaper of a lone Kentucky marksman who faced the advancing British troops. The man, dressed in linsey-woolsey, buckskin leggings and a broad-brimmed hat, stood his ground among the cannon fire and picked off British soldiers one by one with his long-rifle and never wavered. This lone rifleman was so deadly, the British Officer wrote of this Kentuckian, ‘To know that every time that rifle was leveled toward us… when the hammer came down, that the messenger of death drove unerringly to its goal — to know this, and still march on, was awful.’”

Wilkinson spoke to the audience about the history of the Kentucky Air National Guard and its 123rd Airlift Wing, which this year is celebrating its 75th birthday.

“The wing traces its roots to the 123rd Fighter Group and 165th Fighter Squadron, which were created on May 24th, 1946, as part of a nationwide redesignation of World War II Army Air Corps units,” Wilkinson said. “Under War Department orders, the insignia, World War II battle credits and honors of the 359th Fighter Group and the 368th Fighter Squadron were transferred to the Kentucky National Guard, and the new unit subsequently received federal recognition on February 16, 1947. The 123rd designation itself dates to the 123rd Cavalry Regiment, which can trace its lineage to the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, a unit that fought in the Civil War.

“Today, the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Airlift Wing is one of the most decorated units in the United States Air Force. We have a proud history of global engagement and achievement. The wing’s honors include 19 Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards, five Curtis N. “Rusty” Metcalf Trophies, three 15th Air Force Solano Trophies, three Spaatz Trophies and 10 Distinguished Flying Unit Plaques.”

Dickson closed the ceremony by reminding everyone of the importance of history.

“Our history is our legacy together as Soldiers and Airmen of the Kentucky National Guard. As we celebrate our 230th birthday, may we always remember to ‘Fight as Kentuckians.’”