The Rhode Island National Guard traces its history from the first colonial defensive force established in 1638. On May 13, 1638, the “Trainee Band” was formed in Portsmouth, RI. This group of “freemen as a militia subject to call and expected to perform certain military duties in the protection of the people,” was the humble beginnings of the state’s military forces.
The Rhode Island Militia undertook the first overt acts of war against England when on July 19, 1769 the British schooner HMS Liberty was sunk off of Newport, Rhode Island and on the night of June 10, 1772, militia volunteers under Captain Abraham Whipple seized and burned the British schooner, HMS Gaspee in Narragansett Bay. On April 22, 1775, following the shots at Lexington, Massachusetts, the Rhode Island General Assembly created a 1,500 man “Army of Observation” under the command of Brigadier General Nathaniel Greene and sent them to Boston to serve in the new Continental Army under General George Washington. By wars end, more than twenty two Rhode Island militia units had fought for independence including the First Rhode Island Continentals who stood at Yorktown and watched the surrender of British General Cornwallis.
Rhode Island applied the lessons of defense well when at the turn of the century the state militia was reorganized into five county brigades to offer defense of the entire state; the Newport County Brigade, the Bristol County Brigade, the Providence County Brigade, the Washington County Brigade and the Kent County Brigade. This organization would prove invaluable during the War of 1812, when the majority of the Rhode Island Militia was kept in the state to guard against British invasion. This fear was realized on July 16, 1814 when a British fleet appeared off and blockaded Narragansett Bay. However, the British never mounted an invasion and by the fall the threat no longer existed.
During the Civil War Rhode Island sent 23,700 troops to fight for the Union cause; 8 infantry regiments, 3 cavalry regiments; 3 heavy artillery regiments and 10 artillery batteries. The first unit deployed out of state in April 1861 and the last unit returned to Rhode Island in November 1865. 1,685 Rhode Islanders were killed during the conflict and sixteen Rhode Islanders won the Medal of Honor.
While the nation watched, World War I began to unfold in Europe. In 1916, General John J. Pershing led an expeditionary force against Poncho Villa. Light Battery A, Rhode Island Field Artillery, was called into federal service 19 June 1916 for duty with General Pershing during the Mexican Border conflict.
In 1917, after three years of the most brutal fighting in the history of mankind, the United States was drawn into World War I. By 1918, the American Expeditionary Force (A.E.F.) was a reality. From Rhode Island went Battery A, Rhode Island Field Artillery, which was expanded to form the 1st Separate Battalion, Rhode Island Field Artillery. It was then reorganized and re-designated to form the 1st Battalion, 103d Field Artillery, an element of the 26th "Yankee" Division. Under General Pershing, these Soldiers broke the back of Germany.
The years between the two World Wars were a turbulent period for Rhode Island. During the period of the 1920’s and 1930’s Rhode Island found its history marred by a series of labor disputes and natural disasters. The RI National Guard was at the forefront ensuring public safety.
During World War II, the majority of Rhode Island National Guard units belonged to a New England National Guard Division, the 43rd Infantry Division and saw service in the fight against Japan. The division left the U.S. in October 1942 and went initially to Auckland, New Zealand where it was assigned to the forces serving under General Douglas MacArthur. The unit saw extensive service in the Southwest Pacific, fighting in the New Guinea, Northern Solomons, and Luzon campaigns. The division returned to the U.S. and left federal service in October 1945.
During the Korean War, the Rhode Island National Guard had units serving with the 43rd Infantry Division in Germany and the 705th Anti Aircraft Artillery Battalion on the island of Okinawa.
During the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, the Rhode Island National Guard had two units called to Federal service. The 107th Signal Company was activated on May 13, 1968 and served in the Republic of Vietnam until October 1969. The 115th Military Police Company was activated for duty at West Point, NY until December 1969.
During Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm the Rhode Island National Guard had four units mobilized for duty. The 143rd Airlift Wing, out of Quonset Point, flew military airlift mission from the U.S. into Europe transporting 6,500 passengers and 161 tons of cargo. The 118th Military Police Battalion arrived in Saudi Arabia in January 1991. Responsible for four military police companies, the 118th conducted Enemy Prisoner of War detainee operations before returning to Rhode Island in May 1991. The 119th Military Police Company arrived in Saudi Arabia in February 1991. During the conflict the 119th MP Company oversaw the operation of three prisoner of war camps. They returned to Rhode Island in April 1991. The 115th Military Police Company arrived in Saudi Arabia in February 1991. During the war, the 115th was stationed is seven different locations throughout southwest asia providing base security, VIP escort and security and custom missions. They returned to Rhode Island in July 1991.
The current War on Terror has seen the largest mobilization and deployment of Rhode Island National Guard troops since the First World War. Additionally, the RI Guard has suffered its first combat casualties since World War II.
The following units have deployed in support of either Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Noble Eagle or Operation Iraqi Freedom:
143rd Airlift Wing
281st Combat Communications Group
282nd Combat Communications Squadron
102nd Information Warfare Squadron
65th Press Camp
249th Air Ambulance Company
43d Military Police Brigade
1207th Transportation Company
118th Military Police Battalion
115th Military Police Company
119th Military Police Company
169th Military Police Company
103d Field Artillery Brigade
A Battery, 1/103d Field Artillery
B Battery, 1/103d Field Artillery
C Battery, 1/103d Field Artillery
1/126th Aviation Battalion
D Company, 126th Aviation
Special Operations Detachment, Global
173d Infantry Company (LRS)
172d Infantry Company (Mountain)
861st Engineer Company
243d Regional Training Institute.