Kentucky National Guard celebrates 232nd birthday

  • Published
  • By Dale Greer
  • 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Today marks the 232nd birthday of the Kentucky National Guard, which was formed by Gov. Isaac Shelby as one his first official acts in 1792. On Thursday, dozens of Soldiers and Airmen gathered here to celebrate the occasion and look back over the past two centuries.

“I think the greatest component of the U.S. military resides in the National Guard, and in particular, in our state’s National Guard from across all the 54 states and territories,” said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Haldane Lamberton, adjutant general of the Kentucky National Guard.

Lamberton noted that the Army and Air National Guard are now essential components to America’s military, playing a role in virtually every major operation undertaken by the Department of Defense.

“I’m proud to be a part of the Kentucky National Guard, and I very much salute each one of you for your service to the state and nation,” he told the audience, gathered at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base.

U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. David Mounkes, Kentucky’s assistant adjutant general for Air, spoke about early limitations on National Guard units, which were federally mustered by Congress as state militias under the authority of the Militia Act of 1792.

As such, they were not employable as a fighting force capable of acting outside U.S. borders, and could not, for example, cross into Canada or Mexico. Starting in the early 1900s, however, and spanning the next three decades, a series of federal laws established the modern National Guard command structure and the National Guard Bureau, formalizing federal oversight, funding, and the standardization of training and uniforms.

These efforts “enabled the United States to tap into that amazing combat power that we had in the state militias, and now in the National Guard,” Mounkes said.

Andy Dickson, command historian for the Kentucky National Guard, described the original creation of the Kentucky Militia as an act of self-preservation. The Commonwealth of Kentucky officially became the 15th state of the Union on June 1, 1792, and less than a month passed before Gov. Shelby signed into law a bill titled “An Act to Arrange the Militia of the State Into Divisions, Brigades, Regiments, Battalions, and Companies, and for Other Purposes.”

“Kentucky was anything but a peaceful place” in 1792, Dickson noted. During its first 15 years of settlement, 73,000 people traveled to Kentucky, and more than 1,500 died in conflict with Native Americans. In early Louisville, 153 settlers were killed or captured, representing one-eighth of the city’s population, he said.

During the Civil War, as other state militias were joining the fight for the Union or the Confederacy, Kentucky declared neutrality. Although Kentuckians did indeed join the battle, the question of allegiance was left for each Soldier to decide, Dickson said.

The gubernatorial election of 1899 brought about a more challenging crisis for the Kentucky Guard, according to Dickson. A hard-fought contest between William S. Taylor and William Goebel resulted in an extremely close election, with Taylor winning office by a slim margin. Goebel’s allies demanded a re-count. In the meantime, however, Goebel was shot on the grounds of the state Capitol.

As Goebel lay on his deathbed, Taylor appointed an adjutant general to lead the state militia, which then surrounded the Capitol to restore order. The General Assembly, meanwhile, took up the matter of a re-count and decided in favor of Goebel, who was sworn in as governor shortly before he passed away. The governorship then ceded to Lt. Gov. J.C.W. Beckham, who appointed another adjutant general.

The result was that, for about 3 1/2 months, Kentucky had two adjutants general. Thousands of troops occupying Frankfort were split into competing groups — one loyal to Beckham, and the other loyal to Taylor.

Eventually, in May, Taylor conceded the election when the U.S. Supreme Court elected not to hear legal challenges, preserving a lower-court ruling that favored Beckham.

“Fortunately for Kentucky, we did not fall into a second civil war,” Dickson said, “though many would say it was very, very close.”

Dickson also spoke about the response of the Kentucky National Guard following the terrorists attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He noted that Kentucky was the only state not to put its troops on the highest alert of Force Protection Delta.

That decision was made by Gov. Paul Patton and U.S. Army Maj. Gen. D. Allen Youngman, Kentucky’s adjutant general at the time.

“There was no intel that there were any targets in Kentucky, and the population was already anxious and on alert,” Dickson said, explaining Youngman’s recommendation. “The last thing (they) needed to do was make Kentuckians feel more anxious by having Soldiers and Airmen patrolling around every corner. Kentuckians were ready to react if needed.

“And throughout the next 23 years, Kentucky answered the call, with Airmen from the 123rd Airlift Wing being some of the first into Afghanistan, and then later in 2003 with the 223rd Military Police being the first Kentucky National Guard unit in Iraq.

“Today, we continue to stand ready to answer the call, whenever and wherever it takes us.”