National Guard Deployments to War 1950-present


Traditionally, the United States has looked to active-duty military to defend the nation in times of conflict. The National Guard and Reserve always have played a role, but never more so than today. They comprise 28 percent of the 2.3 million service members who have deployed to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars in the last decade.

The guard was established 375 years ago to deal with strikes, labor agitation and demonstrations at public events, said William Boehm, National Guard Bureau historian. Today, guard units assist with domestic disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and tornados and also deploy to war. They take a dual oath — to the governor of their state and to the president.

National Guard units fought in the Civil War although they were known as “volunteers” at that time, according to Dr. Dale Smith, professor of medical history at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

In 1916, the National Defense Act stated that the first-line reserves would be known as the National Guard, Boehm said. After 1950, units deployed to the Korean War, in small numbers to the Vietnam War, and to Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the Gulf. On September 11, National Guardsmen flooded New York City and airports across the country to protect against further attacks.

9/11: The Guard Response

“Some of the first responders to the World Trade Center crash were New York National Guardsmen, without any provocation whatsoever, without any kind of order from their governor,” Boehm said.

On 9/11, Air Guard fighters from Massachusetts and Vermont patrolled the skies over New York City. The New York Army Guard’s 69th Infantry Regiment was among the official first responders to the World Trade Center. National Guardsmen from the District of Columbia’s 113th Wing, Maryland and Virginia’s 192nd Fighter Wing and North Dakota’s 119th Fighter Wing patrolled Washington, according to the National Guard.

When U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001, it began the first of two wars in which the National Guard and Reserve were a key part of the fighting force.

A Decade of War

Although the guard continued to play its traditional role in domestic disaster relief and other aid efforts, guardsmen’s presence in overseas conflicts quickly expanded, with record deployments to two wars.

Monthly Deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq Since 2001

line scale

U.S. forces invade Iraq

President George W. Bush orders more troops to Iraq

President Barack Obama orders more troops to Afghanistan

A New Role

The role of the National Guard and Reserves in war had changed.

“One of the [changes] has been the transformation of the National Guard into, in a larger sense, a much more ready fighting force, instead of a strategic reserve, which it has historically been throughout the 20th century,” Boehm said.

Wisconsin National Guardsmen Jeffrey Vorpahl and Cory Loomis said they didn’t expect to go to war when they joined the guard. But two years after the U.S. invaded Iraq, they were deployed to fight there in 2005.

Deploying to War

Since September 2001, 379,736 National Guardsmen have deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, along with 285,718 reservists.

Current National Guard and Reserve Deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan in September 2011

All National Guard and Reserve Deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan since September 2001

current scale
total scale

Reservists by the Numbers

A look at how many times a reservist deploys

redeployment scale

Number of Deployments

In the decade of conflict that followed September 11, 2001, 63 percent of the National Guardsmen deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have deployed once, while 37 percent have deployed multiple times, according to National Guard Bureau data.

The reserve component made up to 40 percent of the total fighting force in Iraq and Afghanistan at one point in the last 10 years, said Capt. Marshall Hanson of the Reserve Officers Association.

A little more than 9,000 reservists were wounded in action in the last decade, according to the National Guard Bureau. Almost 700 National Guard troops died in conflict in the last 10 years, including five who died in the attacks on 9/11, according to the National Guard.

In the chart, the category “4” represents four or more deployments.

Gender of Deployed Reservists

Women deploying to war are still in the minority, with only 11.5 percent, or 76,376, women reservists deploying.

Age of Deployed Reservists

Reservists aged 20-29 make up 44 percent of all deployed reservists, with 292,192 reservists going to war in their 20s.

Education Levels of Deployed Reservists

The majority of reservists deployed to war have received a high school diploma, with 72 percent, or 481,749 reservists, graduating from high school.

Reservists with Children

Since 2001, 311,665 reservists with children have deployed. Fifteen percent, or 46,050 of those reservists, have deployed more than three times.

Data sources: National Guard Bureau and the Defense Manpower Data Center

Additional Photography: Family photos; Gina Harkins/Medill; Additional Video: Sridhar Natarajan/Medill