By LTC (OH) Deano L. McNeil, MPA, MCP
Special Contributor for In Homeland Security
The United States government and the governments of the states and territories utilize a multi-tiered military and emergency management force structure to prepare and respond to issues pertaining to homeland security and domestic military operations. This force structure includes active and reserve federal military forces, the United States Coast Guard, National Guard forces, state defense forces, and state emergency management agencies. However, within the area of state defense forces, one of the most overlooked and underutilized homeland security assets are naval militia forces.
Naval Militia: A Long History
The fact that naval militia resources are underutilized is particularly striking given the number of states that border on the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Gulf of Mexico, the Great Lakes, the major rivers that traverse the United States, and the port and harbor assets associated with those maritime assets.
Naval militia are the predecessors of the United States Naval Reserve and have a history dating back to colonial America. In 1775, when the Navy was created by the Continental Congress, each colony, and later state, possessed armed naval vessels under the control of the state government.
Today, there are two types of naval militia within the United States. The first type is considered a component of the Organized Militia of the United States, under United States Code (USC) Title 10, Section 311(b)(1), along with the National Guard. Naval militias formed under Title 10 are able to receive various forms of federal military materials and facilities support, in accordance with USC Title 10, Section 7854, provided that a minimum of 95 percent of the militia’s membership are Navy and Marine Corps reservists and the militia’s organization, training, and administration meets Department of the Navy standards. Currently, the New York Naval Militia and the Alaska Naval Militia are the only two Title 10 naval militias active in the United States.
The other type of naval militia is one that is formed under USC Title 32, Section 109 (c), which is the provision of federal law that allows the states and territories to maintain other military forces, in addition to their National Guard. This type of naval militia is exclusively under state control and is financed, regulated, trained, and equipped by the state operating it. Unlike a Title 10 naval militia, a Title 32 naval militia is prohibited from utilizing active Navy and Marine Corps reservists. Currently, there are two Title 32 naval militia organizations operating in the United States: Ohio Naval Militia and the Maritime Regiment of the Texas State Guard.
Naval Militia: Inexpensive
A naval militia can be maintained at a minimal cost to a state and it has the ability to provide a state’s Adjutant General unique mission capabilities that most state military departments do not have readily available. In addition, because many of the vessels of the militia are portable, naval militia units have the capability of quickly responding to where they are needed.
A naval militia is exclusively under an Adjutant General’s control and could be ordered into service directly by the Adjutant General without having to go through a request and approval process necessary to gain access to federal assets, such as Coast Guard watercraft or watercraft from other state agencies. Nor would an Adjutant General have to worry about whether those watercraft would be available when needed, as would be the case with watercraft from other sources.
A state militia force has the capability to train for and carry out a number of potential missions. Some of these naval missions may include:
- Security patrols of state military facilities that have a waterfront. The Ohio Naval Militia carries out this mission at NGJTS Camp Perry, in Port Clinton, Ohio. Camp Perry is home to a large weapons range used by both the military and civilian organizations. The range impact area is in the adjacent waters of Lake Erie and the Naval Militia patrols the perimeter of the impact area, keeping civilian watercraft out of the area during times of live fire, and providing assistance to boaters in the area as needed.
- Security patrols of critical infrastructure adjacent to waterways, harbors, and ports. According to the Chief of Staff, New York Naval Militia, that militia has two continual missions that involve working with the Coast Guard in patrolling New York Harbor and patrolling the Lower Hudson River Area around the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant.
- Riverine disaster operations. These types of operations may include conducting disaster assessment, transportation activities, search and rescue, and supply activities in flooded or island areas.
- Aid to civil authority response. Both the New York Naval Militia and the former New Jersey Naval Militia provided emergency response and support to local, state, and federal agencies in a variety of capacities after the 9/11 tragedy. In addition, according to the Chief of Staff, New York Naval Militia, the New York Naval Militia provided assistance in response to Hurricanes Irene and Lee; 2012 response to Hurricane Sandy; and 2014 assistance for the Buffalo lake effect snowstorm.
- Other types of support to state and local authorities, including legal support, medical support, chaplain support, communications and administrative support, and manpower support.
Unfortunately, some states that have had naval militia assets disbanded them. Certainly any number of reasons, including cost, could have contributed to the decisions to disband these units. However, I would suggest that any military, first responder, or emergency response organization is organized, trained, and maintained in the hope that it will never have to be used.
Naval militia can provide a state military department with trained personnel capable of performing a variety of emergency response options at a minimal cost to a state or territorial government. These forces have the advantage of being portable, of being able to respond to an emergency or disaster situation in a short period of time, and they provide a state Adjutant General with exclusive control of response tools that otherwise may not currently be available to him or her, or may not be available quickly when they are needed the most.
State and territorial leaders should examine whether a naval militia force could play a role in disaster and emergency response or domestic operation and, if that determination is made, they should strongly consider establishing a naval militia.
About the Author
LTC (OH) Deano L. McNeil is an Assistant Chief of Police with the Notre Dame College Police Department, located in South Euclid, Ohio. He is a soldier in the Ohio Military Reserve and serves as Commander of the OHMR Training Academy. LTC McNeil holds a Master of Public Administration Degree, with honors, from American Military University.