The Tennessee State Guard

Public Chapter 15 of the Public Acts of 1941 created the Tennessee State Guard. An earlier state guard existed during the Reconstruction era but had lapsed. State officials resurrected the concept of a state guard as part of their home-front preparedness campaign in 1941. Governor Prentice Cooper supported the state guard in response to the growing awareness that the United States would become involved in World War II. The act authorized the creation of an all-volunteer force, separate and distinct from the National Guard, who would serve up to thirty days after the government released the National Guard from federal duty. The Tennessee State Guard limited enlistment to male citizens between the ages of eighteen and sixty-five who had not been expelled or dishonorably discharged from any military or naval organization of Tennessee, of any other state, or of the United States. Additionally, service in the guard did not exempt any member from military service required under federal law, and the guard could not deploy its members beyond the state borders.
The governor controlled the state guard and had the authority to appoint and commission its officers. Originally, the primary mission of the Tennessee State Guard was to provide a force of trained volunteers to maintain National Guard facilities and equipment, resist invasion, suppress rebellion, insurrection, riots, or threats, suppress unlawful violence and arrest violators, and investigate acts of treason, sabotage, and attempted sabotage. Guard members were required to obey the orders of both the governor and the appointed officers.
The Tennessee State Guard, commanded by Major General Thomas A. Frazier, state adjutant general, organized into three divisions located in West, Middle, and East Tennessee. Brigades were located in Memphis, Jackson, Nashville, Cookeville, Pulaski, Kingsport, and Chattanooga. During World War II, the guard protected vital industries, assisted law enforcement officials, aided in domestic emergencies, and performed other duties assigned to the National Guard. The Tennessee State Guard became inactive on January 1, 1948, and remained dormant until its reorganization and reactivation in 1985.
On March 13, 1985, Public Chapter 36 reactivated the guard and renamed it the Tennessee Defense Force. Amended sections of the Tennessee Code Annotated (TCA) changed the eligibility requirements to allow men and women between the ages of sixteen and seventy to become members. Changes to the TCA also authorized active duty military pay for activated members. Similar to the mission of the earlier state guard, the Tennessee Defense Force provided a trained and organized military force to assume control of National Guard facilities and their missions during times of federalization. In 1998, the Tennessee State Legislature once again renamed the unit, headquartered in Nashville, as the Tennessee State Guard.
Under the direction of the Tennessee Military Department, the state guard is composed of approximately one thousand soldiers organized as a light infantry division and divided into four infantry brigades. These brigades, including a medical detachment, a military police detachment, and service and support troops, are located in Jackson, Smyrna, Knoxville, and Chattanooga. Each brigade also includes an airborne qualified search-and-rescue team trained by special operations personnel serving in the guard.
Soldiers in the Tennessee State Guard are all unpaid volunteers, many of whom are medical and legal professionals, the majority of whom have prior active or reserve military service. The guard also accepts volunteers with no prior military experience and conducts its own basic training program. Additionally the guard conducts advanced training for members, including officer and non-commissioned officer development training. In 2003, the guard had an annual operating budget of $53,000. Guard members do not receive compensation for their time or expenses and are required to provide their own uniforms, equipment, and transportation.
In response to world events of the past decade, the Tennessee State Guard has expanded its training program to include courses offered by the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA). The guard focuses on possible threats to domestic security and actively plans for contingency operations in support of TEMA and state and local law enforcement agencies. While not authorized to use deadly force in their operations, the Tennessee State Guard serves as a force multiplier, ready to provide augmentation personnel in the event of the federalization of the National Guard.

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  • Article Title The Tennessee State Guard
  • Author
  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date June 15, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018