History of the Utah National Guard
The National Guard traces its roots to Dec. 13, 1636, when the first militia was formed in Massachusetts to protect the colonies. These Citizen-Soldiers were then known as “Minutemen" for their rapid response to community threats, later distinguishing themselves in the Revolutionary War.
The Utah National Guard draws its heritage from a militia called the Nauvoo Legion. The Nauvoo Legion was organized by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo, Illinois, under a special charter granted by Illinois legislature in 1840. The charter was annulled by the Illinois government in 1845, allowing mobs to drive the members of the Church from the state. The so-called “Mormons” requested aid from the government as they prepared to trek west in search of a new home. Their request came only eight days after Congress declared war on Mexico. President James K. Polk agreed to send aid if the Mormons could provide volunteers for the Mexican-American War.
Brigham Young, second president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, wrote the following letter in support of the federal government’s request:
The President wants to do us good and secure our confidence. The outfit of this five hundred men costs us nothing, and their pay will be sufficient to take their families over the mountains. There is war between Mexico and the United States, to whom California must fall a prey, and if we are the first settlers the old citizens cannot have a Hancock or Missouri pretext to mob the Saints. The thing is from above for our own good.
Over 500 men volunteered to fight in the Mexican-American War, many of whom were from the Nauvoo Legion. These volunteers became known as the Mormon Battalion, and they were the only religion-based unit in United States military history. They were led by Mormon company officers commanded by regular U.S. Army officers. The battalion marched some 2,000 miles from Council Bluffs, Iowa, arriving in San Diego, California, in January, 1847, in what has been called the longest infantry march in history.
Utah Territorial Militia
Many veterans of the Mormon Battalion would go on to be leaders in Utah’s first militia, organized in 1852 by the Provisional State of Deseret and the Territory of Utah law. True to their heritage, they called themselves the Nauvoo Legion. The Nauvoo Legion faced off with the United States government in what was called the Utah War of 1857-58. With a total force of approximately 6,000 members, several units of the northern Utah force were mobilized to stop the entry of Albert Sidney Johnston's army into Utah. The Army had been sent by President James Buchanan to quell what in the East had been described as a rebellion of the Utah people against the government. The Nauvoo Legion held Johnston's forces at bay near Fort Bridger until an agreement was reached for the army to pass through Salt Lake City and establish a post at Camp Floyd, about forty miles southwest of Salt Lake City.
Two cavalry units of the Nauvoo Legion were given federal duty during the Civil War in 1862 to guard the mail and freight routes from Independence Rock to Salt Lake City.
In 1857, members of the Nauvoo Legion participated in the murder of 120 immigrants of the Baker-Fancher Party that was moving through Utah to California. This tragic event became known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre. The Nauvoo Legion was disbanded by the Edmunds-Tucker Act in 1887. For the next seven years, the defense of the Territory fell to small groups of local militias.
The Legion also saw service in several conflicts with local Native American tribes, including the Black Hawk War of 1865-72 and the Walker War of 1853.
Utah National Guard
The Utah National Guard was officially organized on March 26, 1894 with its headquarters in Salt Lake City, the capital of the Territory of Utah. In 1898, almost 800 Utahns, most of them Guard members, volunteer for service in the Philippines during the Spanish American War and saw extensive combat in campaigns around Manila.
Trouble along the Mexican border caused President Woodrow Wilson to activate the National Guard in 1916, sending artillery, cavalry and hospital corps to patrol the border. Some of these troops were still in federal service when Congress declared war on Germany, April 6, 1917. Nearly 1,400 Utah Guard members were involved in World War I with many members seeing action with active-duty Army units.
In 1941, all Utah Guard units were called to active duty as fighting escalated both in Europe and in the Pacific. By 1942, about 2,600 Utah Guard members had seen action in World War II. The 204th Field Artillery Battalion fought in Europe with Patton's 3rd Army. The 115th Medical Regiment, 115th Ordinance Company, 115th Engineer Regiment, 145th, 213th, 222nd and 225th Field Artillery Battalions, 640th and 815th Tank Destroyer Battalions saw combat in the Pacific.
Utah Air and Army National Guard
The Utah Air National Guard was founded on November 18, 1946, with the federal recognition of the 191st Fighter Squadron at Salt Lake City Municipal Airport. Fighter pilots flew the new Air Guard's P-51 Mustangs. Some 3,080 Guard members, representing all of the Air Guard and 62 percent of the Army Guard, were activated over the course of the Korean War, from 1951 to 1953.
The Berlin crisis in 1961 saw 1,600 Guard members mobilized. Many filled state-side positions vacated by active-duty forces sent to Germany.
In 1965, the Utah National Guard was put on alert for mobilization to Vietnam. No Army Guard units were ever activated, but some Guard members volunteered for duty in Vietnam. Due to increased enlistments during this period, the Guard had a two-year waiting list, and only accepted recruits with prior military service. The Air Guard flew its first volunteer mission to Vietnam in December, taking Christmas gifts to soldiers. The Air Guard flew an additional 96 missions to Vietnam over the course of the war.
Utah Air Guard crews were among the first to volunteer for airlift support of the U.S. military buildup in Saudi Arabia after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. Six Utah Army Guard units were activated for duty in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Air Guard units were not activated, but volunteer crews continued providing airlift support. By the end of the war, 1,706 Utah Guard members had participated either as volunteers or on Active Duty.
In 1992, the Utah National Guard’s 23rd Army Band was one of the first U.S. military organizations to visit post-Soviet Russia, accepting an invitation to perform in St. Petersburg. They were invited into military installations no American soldier had ever visited before.
Since September 11, 2001, over 17,00 Utah Guard members have been activated and deployed for worldwide duty to include Operation Noble Eagle, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Joint Forge, and Operation New Dawn.
The 2002 Winter Olympics brought approximately 2,400 athletes from over 80 countries and thousands of spectators to Utah. The mission of law enforcement augmentation fell to the Utah National Guard. Over 2,000 guard members from 24 states came to Salt Lake City to joined more than 2,500 Utah Guard members to provide security for the Games. At that time, more soldiers were deployed in support of the 2002 Winter Olympics than any other military operation in the world.
Sources: "History of the Utah National Guard: 1894-1954" and “The Utah National Guard and Territorial Militias” by Richard C. Roberts, and Utah National Guard archives.