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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Then and Now: Washington National Guard

The roots of today’s Washington National Guard go back to the 1850s and the Washington Territory.

Territorial Gov. Isaac I. Stevens was appointed in 1853 and advocated for a state militia. In 1855, the territorial legislature authorized a militia, the Washington Territorial Volunteers, just as hostilities broke out with the region’s Indian tribes.

The regular U.S. Army did the most to quell Indian attacks, but records show Gov. Stevens often dispatched companies of state militia to aid the Army. The worst fighting of the Indian Wars was in 1855 and 1856, but hostilities, including the Nez Perce War of 1877, continued.

After statehood in 1890, the state militia became the Washington State Guard, under direct state control but available for national service if necessary. Some State Guard members served in the Philippines in 1898 and 1899. The Militia Act of 1903 codified when the Guard could be nationalized.

In 1908, the Washington National Guard constructed an armory building at 202 W. Second Ave. in Spokane for training and indoor drill space.

In 1916, some Spokane soldiers were deployed to the Mexico border in case the revolutionary Gen. Pancho Villa crossed into the U.S.

In 1917, those same soldiers were called up for World War I and fought in France. They were called the National Guard for the first time.

In 1924, an Air National Guard aviation unit, the 116th Observation Squadron, was started at Felts Field.

The National Defense Act of 1933 formally recognized the National Guard as a backup to regular Army troops.

Throughout the 20th century, the U.S. military continued to revamp its system of divisions, brigades, regiments, battalions. During the Great Depression, some National Guard units went inactive because there wasn’t enough money to pay the soldiers.

In World War II, the Washington National Guard joined other units in the Army’s 41st Division in the Pacific theater, fighting in the Philippines and assisting in the occupation of Japan.

The Guard’s 81st Infantry Brigade backed up the 2nd Infantry Division in the Korean conflict.

Though the Guard wasn’t activated for the Vietnam War, the 81st Brigade Combat Team, made up of approximately 3,500 soldiers, was called up for service in Iraq, starting in 2003.

The Washington State Guard still exists as a uniformed nonmilitary volunteer organization to help during emergencies and natural disasters.

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