Sunday, August 23, 2020

Thirty-Five Years of Volunteer Service: The Ga. State Defense Force, 1985-2020

By Maj. William Carraway

Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

Seventy men and six women swore into the newly organized Ga. State Defense Force during a ceremony at the Georgia National Guard headquarters in Atlanta, August 24, 1985. Major General Joseph W. Griffin, Adjutant General of Georgia, presided over the ceremony and addressed the new SDF volunteers.[1]

“I applaud each and every one of you as true patriots,” said Griffin. “Because you are volunteers, you are showing the true spirit and dedication to tradition first displayed in Lexington and Concord in 1775.”[2]

Volunteers of the Ga. State Guard in 1945. Georgia National Guard Archives.

During his remarks, Griffin noted that one of the main considerations in establishing the SDF was the anticipation of an increased role of the National Guard and Reserve as deployable forces to augment active service components. This concern echoed the events of 1940 when Governor E. D. Rivers established the State Defense Corps, forerunner of the SDF, in anticipation of the possible deployment of 5,100 Georgia National Guard Soldiers. Ryburn G. Clay was appointed to command the SDC on June 23, 1940.[3] Less than three months later, Georgia’s National Guard units activated into federal service and dispatched to training camps such as Fort Jackson and Camp Blanding.[4] Volunteers of the Ga. SDC, which was redesignated as the Ga. State Guard in 1942, trained for homeland defense, guarded Georgia’s coast and stood ready to respond to natural disasters. Thousands of volunteers passed through the ranks of the Ga. State Guards before it was disbanded in 1947.[5]

Sept 3, 2005 - Ga. SDF Volunteers assist medical evacuees from New Orleans following the impact of Hurricane Katrina. Georgia National Guard Archives.

Since its establishment in 1985 under the command of Brig. Gen. John Gillette, the Ga. SDF has supported the Ga. DoD during state emergencies. Under the leadership of Brig. Gen. Tom Blackstock, the organization’s sixth and current commander, the Ga. SDF has performed an unprecedented variety of response missions.

Brigadier General John Gillette, first commander of the Ga. SDF and Brig. Gen. Tom Blackstock, current commander of the Ga. SDF.  Georgia Guard Archives.

“The great patriots of the Georgia State Defense Force have continued in the finest traditions of selfless service to the citizens of Georgia during the recent COVID-19 pandemic response missions,” said Blackstock. “These men and women have performed more volunteer hours in the last six months than they would typically perform in three to four years of domestic support missions. Their willingness to step up in the state's time of need is truly remarkable. I am proud to serve with so many great Georgians serving Georgians. True Patriots! Ready to Serve!”

Volunteers of the Ga. SDF distribute supplies at Second Harvest of South Georgia's point of distribution in Tifton, Ga. April 9, 2020. In a matter of hours,
more than 1,750 households received supplies through the POD operation. Photo by Sgt. Kerry Hatcher.

Like Blackstock, Maj. Gen. Tom Carden, Georgia’s Adjutant General has repeatedly praised the efforts of the Ga. SDF through the COVID-19 response.

“The Georgia State Defense Force has literally made history in their sustained response to the COVID-19 pandemic, said Carden. “The men and women of the Ga. SDF worked tirelessly in food banks, hospitals, nursing home, and at COVID-19 sample points of collection to alleviate suffering and save lives. Members of our SDF are volunteers in the truest sense of the word. I am both inspired and honored to serve with them.”

[1] “New State Defense Force Will Respond if Guard Mobilizes.” The Georgia Guardsman Magazine, Oct-Dec 1985, 3.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Atlanta Constitution, June 23, 1940.

[4] General Orders Number 13, Military Department, State of Georgia, October 7, 1941

[5] “Thompson Ends State Guard.” Atlanta Constitution, April 20, 1947, 23.


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