The National Guard Bureau: A Brief History

Today we are going to take a look at the history of the National Guard Bureau. Many people do not know how or when the National Guard Bureau was formed, or what its purpose is.  Let’s take a look.

The National Guard Bureau is the joint bureau of the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard, providing oversight for both, as well as serving as the primary communications conduit for the Army and Air National Guard, as well as the Department of the Army, the Department of the Air Force, and the State Defense Forces. The National Guard Bureau also oversees the Army and Air National Guards, and acting as liaison to the Department of Defense.

There are several notable events in the history of the NGB that important in understanding the evolution of the NGB into what it is today. They are:

  1. The Militia Act of 1903-also known as the Dick Military Act of 1903, started the National Guard Bureau’s inception as it gave the Federal Government the responsibility of financially supporting the National Guard. The Act also created the Division of Militia Affairs, under the supervision of the Adjutant General, to lighten the load of the War Department. The legislation additionally organized the National Guard into a more professional military organization, emphasizing organization and standardized training.
  2. The National Defense Act of 1916-the Division of Militia Affairs, in a step closer to becoming the National Guard Bureau, became the Militia Bureau and transitioned to the supervision of the Secretary of War.  The National Defense Act of 1916 also converted the individual state militias into a unified Reserve Component of the Army and officially name it the National Guard.
  3. September 11, 1917 War Department General Order 119-legislation that defined the Militia Bureau’s jurisdiction, to include “coordination through the office of the Chief of Staff, of the organization, equipment, and instruction of the National Guard under department commanders in a manner similar to the coordination by the Chief of Staff of the organization, equipment and training of the regular Army under department commanders.”
  4. June 4, 1920-Amendment to the National Defense Act of 1916-stated that, although previous Chiefs of the Militia Bureau had been Regular Army officers, future Chiefs would be a current or former National Guard officer with ten or more years of service and shall serve as Major General. The Amendment also stated that the Chief of the Militia Bureau would be appointed by the President of the United States, upon the advice of the governors of the states and the Senate, to a term of four years.
  5. June 15, 1933 Amendment to Section 81 of the National Defense Act of 1916-the Militia Bureau officially becomes the National Guard Bureau.
  6. World War II-the National Guard Bureau’s first encounter with war, as National Guard units were mobilized on September 16, 1940 for deployments to theaters in the Pacific and in Europe. World War II brought about three major changes to the National Guard Bureau. First, it was designated as a part of the Adjutant General’s Office under War Department Circular Number 59 on March 2, 1942, and, on April 27, 1942, General Orders Number 9 transitioned the National Guard Bureau again, this time to the Chief of Administrative Services.  The second major change occurred on November 11, 1943, per Army Service Forces Circular Number 118, which directed that the Chief of the National Guard Bureau would now report to the Commanding General of the Army Service Forces. Finally, on May 17, 1945, General Order Number 39 moved the National Guard Bureau one more time to the War Department and officially classified it as a War Department Special Staff “activity.”
  7. Reorganization of the National Guard post-World War II-The transition of the National Guard to service under the Federal Government greatly reduced its forces, and, at the end of World War II, grossly understaffed, the National Guard Bureau was commissioned with reorganizing the National Guard as a whole.  These reorganization efforts created the Air Force as well as the Air National Guard, which was formally recognized on June 30, 1946, with the first unit located at Buckley Field in Denver, Colorado.
  8. October 1, 1948-the National Guard Bureau was firmly established as a bureau of the Department of the Army and an agency of the Department of the Air Force. The National Guard Bureau performed similar duties for the Department of the Army and the Air Force.
  9. May of 1950-Special Regulation 10-230-1 created the Chief of the National Guard Bureau and gave more authority to the directors of the Army and the Air National Guards, solving a long-standing battle over control between the two.  The Special Regulation also provided for a Deputy Chief of the National Guard Bureau.
  10. August 6, 1958-Congress provided for the organization of the Department of Defense, making the National Guard Bureau a Joint Bureau of the Departments of the Army and Air Force. The Chief of the National Guard Bureau would act as advisor to both departments on National Guard matters.
  11. 2012 National Defense Authorization Act-the Chief of the National Guard Bureau becomes a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff with President Obama’s signing of the Act on December 31, 2011.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, the National Guard Bureau underwent many changes throughout its history to become the government organization it is today. Today, the National Guard Bureau has many functions, from overseeing, developing and maintaining the Army and Air National Guards, to ensuring proper training and developing a joint support system for servicemen and their families with the Army and Air National Guard.  The programs, including the National Guard Family Program, Employer Support of the Guard and Reserves, and the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, that were established by the Joint Services Support (JSS) can be accessed through its website at

If any of you have participated in any of these programs, I would love to hear from you.  Let me know which program you accessed, what it was like, and what the outcome was.


chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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6 thoughts on “The National Guard Bureau: A Brief History”

  1. Thank you for sharing this history lesson. While I was aware of the Army National Guard, I had never heard of the National Guard Bureau before, and certainly did not know that it was a part of the Air Force also. Though I am sure that is a poor reflection on me, how wonderful it is to live in a country where many can essentially take their security for granted, trusting in those who serve, unlike other countries where citizens live in constant fear.

  2. I knew absolutely nothing about this important organization. Your bullet points show how, like many branches of the military, the National Guard Reserve’s history acts a microcosm. Reflecting the larger scope of American history and adapting to meet challenges as they arose. Thanks for sharing this fascinating overview!

  3. This is really a great post on the history of the National Guard Bureau, Amy. I really learned a lot from reading this. I look forward to having you write additional articles on our website.


    1. Amy Skalicky

      Thank you, Chuck. This is a fabulous website, and I enjoy writing about history, the military, and military history.

    2. Candace Ginestar

      What a great synopsis about our great history! I am so happy that finally, the Guard has a permanent position on the JCS. I feel like that was a huge victory and step in the right direction for the Guard to be recognized as a valuable part of today’s military. We are always ready, always there!

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