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Happy Birthday, National Guard! And, VHP Researcher Spotlight

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Thanks to VHP researcher Larry Minear for his input on this blog post.

Man in camouflage uniform, helmet and sunglasses smiling with five children.  A military truck is behind them.
Army National Guard Captain Michael Daake with local children, Iraq. Michael Brian Daake Collection, Veterans History Project, AFC2001/001/44668.

Happy 378th birthday to the National Guard! On December 13th, 1636, a colony-wide militia was established in Massachusetts, the precursor to the modern National Guard. Much like their colonial counterparts, the majority of today’s Guard members hold civilian jobs in addition to their military duties. True to their motto of “Always Ready, Always There,” the citizen soldiers of the National Guard have served in every major American conflict, and, fulfilling their primary mission, have provided invaluable aid during stateside disasters.

While National Guardsmen and women have always been willing to deploy and serve their country abroad if called upon, U.S. involvement in the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan altered the role that the Guard had played in previous conflicts, a particular challenge for those Guard members who enlisted prior to the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. The increased need for military personnel meant that a much larger percentage of Guard members were tasked to deploy overseas, many of them more than once, and often with very little time to prepare to leave their families and civilian lives.

In 2007, scholar Larry Minear of Tufts University’s Feinstein International Center published a study on the National Guard’s role in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan: The U.S. Citizen-Soldier and the Global War on Terror: The National Guard Experience. Supplementing interviews that he conducted, largely with members of the New Hampshire and Vermont National Guard units and their families, Minear drew heavily on VHP resources to explore such topics as Guard member attitudes towards their service, their experiences in combat and returning home, and the impact of their deployments and re-entries on their families. As Minear reflected,

“The Global War on Terror has demanded much of the men and women serving in the National Guard–like no other conflict in American history.”

From the 50 VHP collections he consulted for his study, Minear recommended 16 for inclusion in a special edition of Experiencing War, VHP’s rotating online exhibit.

Photo of man on panel event with microphone in front of him.
Author Larry Minear speaks at the Library of Congress in 2010. Photo by Abby Brack.

Minear’s 2010 book, Through Veterans’ Eyes: the Iraq and Afghanistan Experience, expanded the focus to include soldiers from the active-duty as well as the National Guard ranks.  In doing so, he again drew heavily on VHP resources.  At the time he conducted his research, VHP collections from the two wars exceeded one thousand. Minear described his discovery and use of the collections in an appearance at the 2010 National Book Festival, as well as during a special event at the Library of Congress in February 2011; view a video of the event here.

In a 2011 article in the LC Gazette, Minear related,

“VHP represents a treasure trove that deserves the widest-possible utilization as the nation begins the necessary task of reflecting on the longer-term significance of its presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Continuing his interest on the issues, he notes steps recently taken by VHP that make the materials of even greater value to researchers. One such development is the effort to digitize a larger number of collections, expanding the number of collections available and making them more retrievable online.  He expressed the hope that the greater availability of first-person accounts would lead to expanded public awareness of the impacts of the two most recent wars on the individuals who fought them.  In his book’s concluding chapter, “Listening to Veterans,” Minear noted that “the time is ripe for a wide-ranging public debate” on the issues raised by the wars.  “With the possibility of war with Iran now looming,” he observed in late 2014, “such a debate is more essential than ever.”

For a different take on VHP collections, stop by Wednesday for part two of VHP’s three-part series, “Making It Home.” Go here to read part one and share your comments.


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