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Historical Highlights of the New Mexico Army National Guard

By LTC Ezequiel L. Ortiz

Webmaster Note: This article was written as a background of the New Mexico Army National Guard for a convention in Albuquerque in 1995. Much has happened since then so bear in mind that the scope of this article is through early 1995.

The history of the New Mexico National Guard is rather unique, due to the fact that it has existed under many names and three flags from the times of the conquistadors until now.

The Spanish Colonial Militia in New Mexico begins with the year 1598, but in order to put the sequence of events into proper perspective, it is necessary to begin with the year 1595 because that was the year in which the first Colonizing Expedition of El Nuevo Mexico licensed by the Spanish Crown was put in motion. Therefore, on 21 October 1595, the Viceroy in the name of Phillip II appointed Don Juan de Onate y Salazar governor, Captain General, discoverer and pacifier of El Nuevo Mexico. Under the terms of the contract, Onate agreed, at his own expense, to provision and take to El Nuevo Mexico at least 200 men, a thousand head of livestock, tools and all other necessities. The Crown agreed to underwrite the expenses of at least thirteen Fransican Missionaries that were to be part of the expedition. Onate had hoped to have the Expedition assembled and ready to move out by March of 1596. Bureaucratic red tape and intrigue began to operate, much of it fomented by disappointed rivals.

On 30 April 1598, the Expedition crossed the Rio del Norte (Rio Grande) in the vicinity of what today is Juarez, Mexico. On the north bank of the river, the Caravan halted and in front of the assembled, with attendant ceremony and oration, Don Juan de Onate y Salazar took formal possession of New Mexico for God and King. In so doing, he assumed the additional title of Adelantado (explorer), as provided for in his contract with the King. It is noteworthy to state that there were no regular Spanish soldiers assigned to the Expedition and none were assigned to the Colony during the 17th Century up to the time of the Pueblo Rebellion of 1680. The military requirements of the Colony were undertaken by the Colonist-Soldiers in their dual role. Therefore, it is accurate to state that New Mexico's Militia began to exist on 30 April 1598, on the north bank of the Rio Grande at the moment that Onate took formal possession of El Nuevo Mexico and the Colony was on its own.

As time passed in the new colony, Onate's problems increased, but they did not all come from the now sullen and rebellious natives. The demoralized and hungry Colonists had become disenchanted. For a period of two years, they had ranged and explored in every direction searching for the elusive riches that had impelled them to come to New Mexico in the first place. It was Onate's severe treatment of previous deserters that kept the entire Colony from fleeing, for even the Friars considered leaving the place. In June 1601, Onate took about half of the Colony's armed men and headed for the Great Plains, in what later proved to be his last fruitless exploration. Returning five months later, he found but a mere two dozen families to greet the returning party; the rest had fled to Mexico. Once back in Mexico the defectors begged the Government to take over the Colony. In early February 1610, Don Pedro de Peralta relieved Onate.

In the early 18th Century, the population of the Province increased and Spanish settlements proliferated. It was at that time that the title Maese or Maestre de Campo (Military Commander) came into being. As an example, in an early Spanish settlement or region containing any number of Colonists, one of their number was designated Maese or Maestre de Campo, and he served as the local leader or commander of the citizen- soldiers (Vecinos) in his jurisdiction. He responded to a call to arms by the Governor with as many citizen-soldiers as he could muster locally. Each citizen-soldier provided his own arms and mount for the common defense. This military system prevailed in New Mexico right up to 1846 when Brigadier General S. W. Kearney occupied Santa Fe and provided for a territorial militia in the Kearney Code published on 22 September 1846. The first Territorial Legislature in 1851 provided for a Territorial Militia and created the Office of the Adjutant General. In 1862 the Militia consisted of the First Regiment, New Mexico Volunteers, under the command of Colonel Christopher "Kit" Carson. The First Regiment played a decisive role in the defeat of Confederate Forces in the Battle of Glorieta. During the period of 1863-64, the Volunteers won major battles and soundly defeated the Navajos for the first time since the American occupation of the Territory of New Mexico.

The war with Spain brought about the organization of another all volunteer group, the famous "Rough Riders" whose charge up San Juan Hill in Cuba is legendary. Many New Mexico Guardsmen helped form the 2nd Squadron, 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry, led by Teddy Roosevelt. After the war with Spain, Units of the New Mexico National Guard were again put on active duty for service on the Mexican Border in 1916 during the fight with the Mexican Bandit Pancho Villa, who had crossed the border at Columbus, New Mexico. The Guard spent one year on the border hardening themselves to the rough field conditions of the desert southwest.

Mobilization for World War I found the New Mexico National Guard ready for the struggle, with a regiment of Infantry and a Battery of Field Artillery. Upon entering Active Federal Service, the 1st Regiment of Infantry was assigned to the 40th Infantry Division in France. The Battery of Field Artillery was assigned to the 41st Division and became a part of the 146th Field Artillery Regiment. This Regiment took part in the Champagne-Marne Offensive, the Alsne-Marne, Saint Mihiel, and the Meuse-Argonne Offensives.

In 1921, the New Mexico National Guard was completely reorganized into the 111th Cavalry Regiment, the 120th Engineers (less 1st Battalion) and Battery A, 158th Field Artillery (one battery only). In 1939 the War Department suggested that the 111th Cavalry convert to another branch of service and the officers of the command jointly selected Coast Artillery; their wishes were approved in the fall of 1939. In 1940 the 111th Cavalry was redesignated the 200th Coast Artillery Regiment (AA), and the 158th Field Artillery was reorganized as the 104th Antitank Battalion. The conversion was completed on 26 April 1940. The 207th Coast Artillery (AA) came into being, but this designation was short-lived. The 200th Coast Artillery (AA), 104th Antitank Battalion, along with the 120th Engineer Regiment were called to Active Federal Service on 6 January 1941 for what was only supposed to be a period of one year for training purposes.

In August 1941, the 200th Coast Artillery (AA) was selected for an overseas assignment and by November of that year, they were in combat positions 75 miles north of Manila, Philippine Islands; their mission, to protect the airfield of Clark from air attacks. At 0300 hours on 8 December 1941, Manila time; 0830 hours, 7 December, Hawaii time, the war began for the New Mexicans. Later that night the 515th Coast Artillery (AA) was formed from members of the 200th and sent to Manila to uncrate antiaircraft weapons and form a defense for the city of Manila from the Japanese. The men of the 200th assumed the mission of covering the withdrawal to Bataan and distinguished themselves during this action and during the defense of Bataan.

On March 26 an Antiaircraft Artillery Group was formed. It was composed of soldiers from the 200th and the 515th Regiments. This group was commanded-by Colonel Charles G. Sage. This group was formalized into the Philippine Provisional Coast Artillery Brigade (AA); its existence was very brief. In fact, it lasted about 30 hours; whereupon, it was ordered to destroy all of its artillery weapons and organize as an infantry unit forming a final defense line. Surrender came to the Philippines with the Brigade on this defense line facing the enemy "ready to fight."

Colonel Sage took 1,800 New Mexican National Guardsmen to the Philippines and returned with about 900. These men survived the Battle of Bataan, the horrors and atrocities of the "death march" and the privation and deep humiliation of the prisoner of war camps, but this was not the whole story. Many came home in ill health to die early deaths or to be invalids for the rest of their lives. The 200th and the 515th, better known as "THE BRIGADE," will for all times be known for the bravery and devotion to duty of its members. The "New Mexico Brigade" reverted to state control in 1946. These proud New Mexicans brought home with them three Distinguished Unit Citations and the Philippine Presidential Unit Citation.

By February 1941 all New Mexico National Guard units were on Federal active duty. With the 200th in the Philippines, the 104th and the 120th continued training for the upcoming assault of Europe. When the 45th Division moved into Sicily, the 120th Engineer Combat Battalion from New Mexico was there performing those tasks required of a combat engineer in a landing. With the 45th Division constantly on the move, this Engineer Battalion was able to offer support in such places as Sicily, Rome, Southern France, and throughout the Rhineland. In another war sector of the Italian Boot, the 804th Tank Destroyer Battalion, formally the 104th Antitank Battalion, was helping to write modern military history by supporting units of the 34th "Red Bull" Division. Unofficially the 804th was the first unit to enter Rome, only to be asked to withdraw so that the Infantry could make its grand entry.

With the end of World War II, the New Mexican National Guard once again appeared on the home scene with a new array of units. On 1 May 1946, Brigadier General Sage was appointed Adjutant General. Along with a new Adjutant General, the, State was initially reorganized on 12 March 1947 into the 111th Antiaircraft Brigade with five battalions, and as auxiliary to these there was also allotted one Operations Detachment, two Signal Radar Units, one Engineer Searchlight Maintenance Unit, three Ordnance Companies, one Transportation Truck Company, and one Army Band.

The Korean Conflict caused the Federal activation of several units from New Mexico. The 716th AAA Gun Battalion, the 726th AAA Gun Battalion, and the 394th Signal Detachment were the units activated. All three units were first shipped to Fort Bliss, Texas. The 716th remained there as school troops until May 1952, when they were discharged from Federal service and returned to state control. The 726th remained at Fort Bliss, Texas, until October 1951, when it was ordered to Sandia Base, Albuquerque, New Mexico, for the purpose of providing air defense of the installation. This unit remained at Sandia Base until May 1952. The 395th Signal Detachment (Radar Maintenance) served at Camp Edwards, Massachusetts, and was relieved from Federal duty on 7 June 1953. Along with the three units mentioned, the 717th AAA Gun Battalion was also called to Federal Active Duty, first ordered to Fort Bliss, Texas; it remained there until March of 1952, when it was ordered overseas to become a part of the 12th AAA Group at Karlsruhe, Germany. This unit was returned to the United States on 1 March 1953. During the conflict, almost all New Mexico Guard units furnished individual members as replacement to units engaged in conflict on the hills of Korea.

The New Mexico Army National Guard was reorganized and redesignated in accordance with the Combat Regimental System on 1 September 1959. The six artillery battalions were organized as the first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth battalions of the 200th Artillery. This system continues the unit and battalion lineage and history. The 502nd Field Artillery Battalion (155 Howitzer, Towed) ceased to exist on I September 1959. The 515th AAA Group was inactivated on 31 August 1959, upon activation of the 515th Ordnance Battalion (Maintenance and Supply) on September 1959.

The buildup of the United States Army during the Berlin Crisis saw the activation of the 394th Signal Detachment into Federal service on 1 October 1961. This unit proceeded to Tobyhana Signal Depot, Pennsylvania, and served at that station until released from active service on 9 August 1962. This unit was awarded the New Mexico National Emergency Service Certificate by the Governor during annual field training in 1962.

The Vietnam Conflict caused a beef-up in both equipment and additional manpower. No New Mexico Army National Guard Units were activated for Federal active duty during this conflict. During the early 1970's, students at colleges and universities throughout the country were involved in riots to protest United States involvement in the Vietnam conflict. Riots occurred at New Mexico Highlands University, New Mexico State, and the University of New Mexico. During the summer of 1970, a major riot occurred at the University of New Mexico. The New Mexico Army and Air National Guard was called out by the Governor to assist in this riot control and support local and state police. This was the second call made by the Governor for the help of the National Guard; the other time was in June of 1967, when members of the Alianza Federal de Mecedes, led by Reies Lopez Tijerina, were involved in a raid on the courthouse in Tierra Amarilla. The Army National Guard assisted local and state law enforcement officials in tracking down the raiders.

The riot at the New Mexico State Penitentiary during February 1980, will be remembered by all involved as the worst in history. During the 36-hour siege, the prisoners burned the penitentiary and took the lives of 33 fellow prisoners and injured many more. The National Guard and many local law enforcement officials were on duty throughout the siege.

On 4 January 1983, Lieutenant Colonel Edward D. Baca was appointed as the State Adjutant General. He immediately directed that an internal review be conducted within the State Army National Guard. This review revealed the following:

  1. The Army Guard consisted of State Headquarters, 111th ADA Brigade Headquarters, four M-42 Duster Air Defense Artillery (ADA) Battalions, and one maintenance battalion. The New Mexico Army National Guard was primarily Air Defense oriented, and had 56 percent of the ADA assets assigned to the reserve components nationwide.
  2. The Maintenance Battalion was assigned a high priority deployment timetable and was fully equipped with modern equipment. The four Duster-equipped battalions had Korean Conflict vintage, obsolete 40mm guns which the Department of Defense considered to be no longer maintainable due to a lack of spare parts.
  3. The New Mexico Army Guard had no problems in recruiting personnel for the past several years. The State's population is supportive of the National Guard and is pro-military. The demographics indicate that the Guard could easily recruit for at least 1,000 new spaces.

Under the direction of Major General Edward D. Baca, the New Mexico National Guard has achieved the following results:

  1. Fully activated the 5th "Roland" Battalion, 200th ADA, at McGregor Range, New Mexico. This unit represented the first time a National Guard unit had conducted an initial new material fielding of a major weapon system for the United States Army. This unit was deactivated in September 1988, due to Federal cuts.
  2. The new Stinger missile, a shoulder fired ADA system was given to a reserve component. This event signaled to the reserve components that they are part of a total force concept and will be given the same priorities extended to active duty units.
  3. A complete conversion of Duster battalions to the Chaparral missile system was accomplished, with the entire State being reorganized into five Chaparral battalions.
  4. Finally, a new HAWK missile battalion is now in place at Rio Rancho, New Mexico.

Reorganization of this State's Army National Guard under the leadership of The Adjutant General is evidence of what can be accomplished when proper guidance and planning are in effect.

The New Mexico Army National Guard has come a long way from the days of Onate; and what have we learned along the way? Surely this: We live in a small and dangerous world, one in which society heavily depends on the National Guard for its' protection. The Guard derives its very existence from that society. In their mutual dependence lies the strength of American civil-military relations and the safeguarding of both our domestic liberties and our national security. The New Mexico National Guard stands "ready to fight."

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