What the Heck is the Texas State Guard Anyway?
This week, a lesser-known unit of the Texas Military Forces got some attention when Governor Greg Abbott called on them to “monitor” U.S. military training exercises planned for this summer.
Abbott ordered the Texas State Guard to ensure that Texans’ rights were not being infringed and help facilitate communication with residents during the exercises designated “Operation Jade Helm 15.” The operation is set to take place in Bastrop and several other locations across Texas and in some neighboring states between July 15 and September 15.
Exactly how that monitoring will be carried out is still unclear. When asked for details, the Governor’s office told us to call the Texas State Guard. In an email response, the Guard said “we are always ready to answer the call of the Governor and currently leadership from our Texas State Guard are in the process of examining the best way to meet the Governor's intent.”
What is the Texas State Guard?
There are three branches of the Texas Military Forces: the Texas Army National Guard, the Texas Air National Guard and the Texas State Guard. The Governor is the commander-in-chief of all three branches (except when the National Guard is called up for federal service) and are administered by the state Adjutant General, who’s appointed by the Governor.
The Texas State Guard is different from the National Guard. Texas Military Forces says the State Guard “is comprised of an all-volunteer force that helps with state missions and serves as a force multiplier for the Texas Military Forces.” It’s broken down into Army, Air, Maritime and Medical brigades.
There are approximately 2,200 personnel in the Texas State Guard. Again, it’s not clear how many – if any – State Guard members will be officially activated for this monitoring operation.
When activated, Guard members get a $121-per-day stipend (plus several training days). They are eligible for many of the same health, licensing (free CHL and hunting/fishing licenses), and tuition assistance benefits as National Guard members.
The Texas State Guard – unlike the National Guard – cannot be called up for federal duty.
It is not a combat force. The State Guard is typically only called up for disaster relief and other community support functions. Under most circumstances, it only serves in Texas.
The Legislature spells out who is eligible to serve in the State Guard. Requirements include:
· Must be a resident of Texas for at least 180 days
· U.S. citizen or permanent resident
· Between 18 and 70 years old
· Not be a registered sex offender
· Undergo a criminal background check
Why was it created?
The modern State Guard can be traced back to 1941, when the Texas Legislature created the Texas Defense Guard. That force was created to help fill in for the National Guard, which was called up for federal service during World War II.
The Defense Guard was authorized to “protect public utilities, transportation arteries, and war plants; to maintain law and order; to suppress subversive activities; and to repel invasion if necessary,” according to the Texas State Historical Association. The force’s total authorized strength at the time was around 23,000 men. The Defense Guard was issued surplus rifles from the federal War Department, which later had to be given back. Then Guardsmen were issued shotguns.
In 1943, the name of the force was changed to the Texas State Guard. It was given more weapons, vehicles and equipment. Guardsmen were called up to help in storm relief efforts, search for escaped prisoners and even for recovery efforts after the Texas City disaster in 1947.
But with World War II over, and the return of National Guard troops, the Texas State Guard was disbanded on August 28, 1947.
The State Guard went through several reserve iterations over the next two decades, but in 1965, the Legislature re-established the Texas State Guard as an official part of the Texas Military Forces. Later, the Legislature appropriated money for equipment and training “in such matters as traffic control, riot control, restoration of order, modern weapons and radioactive fallout, radiological monitoring, disaster shelters, law and order procedures for civil defense emergencies, and rescue skills,“ according to the State Historical Association.