The Illinois National Guard heritage is similar to the state tree, the White Oak. The trunk is stout and strong much like the core of the Guard. Branches lead off of one another comparable to the organizational heritage. Units have come and gone throughout the years due to reorganization, similar to limbs that need trimming from time to time. Although visibly removed, units remain forever linked to the trunk of history. Each leaf is unique, like the ebb and flow if enlistments, career changes, and retirements. Acorns are unique to the white oak, just like the deployments that occupy bunches of leaves or Service Members.
The history of the Illinois National Guard started with colonial Frenchmen. On January 1, 1718, businessman John Law obtained a charter from the French King that granted him monopoly of French trade in the area known as the Illinois Country. Royal orders dictated that a provision for civil government be arranged for the new province of Illinois. During the summer of 1718, the green officials set out from Louisiana and journeyed to their new home. Among other governing associates, the party included Pierre Duque, Sieur de Boisebriant, Commandant; Captain Diron, Dartaguiette; two Second Lieutenants and a company of 100 Soldiers.
Among the tall grasses of the Illinois prairie, rose the first resemblance of an organized militia, under the French regime. This small unit of French Soldiers had the responsibility of: investigating the number of men capable of bearing arms in each village, determining the amount of powder and lead available, forming companies of militia and arranging a signal system from settlement to settlement. By 1723, Fort De Chartes became the first military structure dedicated to the protection of the community.
As the population of settlements grew, militia companies began popping up among each community, under the tutelage of the French. Looking back on his time in Illinois, the inspector of Troops, Dartaguiette wrote in his diary, “I called together all the inhabitants of this village [Kaskaskia] to whom I said that I had an order from the King to form a company of militia for the purpose of putting them in a position to defend themselves with greater facility against the incursions which the Indians, our enemies, might attempt, so I formed a company, after having selected four of the most worthy among them to put at the head. This company being under arms, I passed it in review the same day.” Under the shade of the White Oak, the militia rested, having completed the first drill on May 9, 1723. The first of many hundreds of thousands of drills, the Illinois National Guard is nearly 300 years old, not quite as old as the 500 year life span of the White Oak.
The American Revolution
During the summers of 1778-1780 the militias joined Colonel George Rogers Clark to oust the British from the area that later became Illinois.
The War of 1812
Illinois citizen-Soldiers first federalized in 1809, when militiamen constructed blockhouses to defend themselves and their families against British and hostile Indian attack during the War of 1812. This is where the history of the current 130th Infantry, 33rd Brigade starts.
The Black Hawk War
During the Black Hawk War in 1832 Illinois’ most famous Guardsman, Abraham Lincoln served in the militia. Years later, in 1859 when recalling his military service he stated, “Then came the Black-Hawk war; and I was elected a Captain of Volunteers…a success which gave me more pleasure than any I have had since.”
The Mexican War
At the Mexican Battle of Cerro Gordo in April 1847, Soldiers of the 4th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment nearly captured Mexican General Santa Anna. His captured wooden leg resides in the Illinois State Military Museum at Camp Lincoln and draws visitors from around the world.
When Civil War broke out in 1861, Illinois volunteers answered President Abraham Lincoln’s call providing 259,100 men. Illinois gave the third largest in numbers after New York and Ohio. Illinois suffered around 35,000 casualties. Three current units can claim lineage that date back to the Civil War, the 130th Infantry Regiment, 1544th Transportation Company, and 444th Chemical Company.
Spanish American War
In 1898, the Spanish American War took Illinois troops overseas for the first time. Carl Sandburg, poet and Abraham Lincoln biographer, enlisted as a private in the Illinois National Guard out of a sense of Patriotism. During training he would see the Lincoln sites in D.C. for the first time, impacting his career as a Pulitzer Prize winning author on Abraham Lincoln.
World War I
From 1917-1919, World War I took the Soldiers from the prairies of Illinois to the battlefields of France. The 8th Illinois Infantry, one of the first all-black units fought under the French. During WWI roughly 27,041 served in the 33rd Division, (according to the Adjutant General’s journal) and had 738 killed in action and 5,871 were wounded. The 33rd Division is credited with 9 medals of honor.
World War II
During WWII the Illinois National Guard fought in both the pacific and European theaters. In the Pacific they liberated towns from the Japanese. The 106th Cavalry received many accolades for the rescue of a Belgian King from the German Nazis.
Established in 1927, and becoming its own branch on January 1, 1956, the Illinois Air National Guard provided support during the Korean War. Soldiers on the Army side functioned as replacements and trainers. The Illinois Army National Guard’s 232nd Combat Service Support Battalion also supported the Korean War.
During the Vietnam War the Illinois Army and Air National Guard provided logistics support. At home they supplemented state and local authorities in maintaining civil control on college campuses.
Desert Storm and Desert Shield
When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 during the Gulf War, the Illinois National Guard was part of the coalition that liberated the country and provided follow-on protection in Operation Southern Watch.
Great Flood of 1993
Operation Wave Rider was the largest state active duty mission in the history of the Illinois National Guard. More than 7,000 Soldiers and Airmen were activated after heavy rains led to record flooding of the Mississippi, Illinois, Rock, Sangamon and Wabash rivers.
Humanitarian and Peace Keeping Missions
In the 80s and 90s the focus turned to transformation and training to meet the expanded role of providing support to humanitarian operations including six NATO missions. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Illinois National Guard has become a partner in safeguarding the people of other nations. In 2011, the 126th Air Refueling Wing deployed to support the no-fly zone over Libya. Through peacekeeping operations in Macedonia and Bosnia, and the establishment of the State Partnership Program (SPP) with Poland, the National Guard has proven that it is a good neighbor to the world.
Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 the Illinois National Guard has taken on a major role in supporting the global war on terrorism in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, at home and other parts of the world where freedom and liberty are threatened. The Illinois National Guard has responded to several national emergencies. In 2005, over 1,000 Illinois Army and Air National Guard members deployed to our southern states in support of relief efforts for hurricanes Katrina, Rita and later in 2011, Irene.
In 2011, Illinois National Guard troops assisted the Illinois State Police during the severe winter storms in February and helped communities in southern Illinois during the floods in May.
In 2012 approximately 1,400 Soldiers and Airmen supported the NATO Summit in Chicago.
Today The Illinois National Guard is involved in a full spectrum of operations— support to operations Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, homeland defense, partnerships abroad, as well as a myriad of state security and natural disaster relief missions. The Illinois National Guard has deployed more than 11,500 Illinois Soldiers and 10,000 Illinois Airmen in support of operations Iraqi Freedom, New Dawn and Enduring Freedom since 9-11. Thirty-four Illinois National Guard Soldiers have fallen during operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Illinois National Guard has been a major contributor to every major conflict in our nation’s history. For nearly 300 years, just as in the days of the militia, before we were even a state, the Illinois National Guard has a contract with the citizens of Illinois, providing a ready and relevant force to respond to any accident or incident that should arise, state or federal.