The history of the Colorado National Guard began Jan. 23rd, 1860, when the 1st General Assembly of the Jefferson Territory authorized the formation of two military companies - the “Jefferson Rangers” and the “Denver Guards”. These units were later disbanded and the Colorado Volunteers stood up as the official Territorial Militia.
On Feb. 26, 1861, Colorado became a territory of the Union. William Gilpin, the first Governor, organized the “Colorado Volunteers” for the defense of the territory and to oppose the looming invasion of Confederate forces during the Civil War. The 1st Colorado Volunteers met and defeated the Texas Confederates at La Glorieta Pass, New Mexico, on March 23-25, 1862. Colorado’s 2nd Volunteer Cavalry served with distinction against Confederates in Missouri and Kansas while also responding to Indian attacks in the area.
With Arapahoe and Cheyenne aggression reaching a boiling point on the Colorado plains in the 1860s, a militia was raised in an attempt to quell violent bands of Indians. While there are various accounts in the history of the Battle of Sand Creek, the 3rd Colorado Cavalry successfully stemmed the killings of settlers in the area.
After Colorado became a state in 1876, the Colorado State Militia was activated dozens of times for the protection of public rights, safety, and property during the miner strikes between 1889 and 1922.
The Colorado Guard mobilized for the Spanish-American War and on June 14, 1898, sailed for the Philippines. Colorado units participated in numerous battles and were the first to enter and eventually capture the city of Manila. During this campaign, the Colorado Guard’s only Medal of Honor recipient, Lt. Col. William R. Grove, earned the military’s highest honor for valiant action against the enemy.
In June, 1916, the Colorado Guard mobilized for Mexican Border service. They were stationed on the border of Arizona, protecting the area from Pancho Villa and his army until returning home in Feb. 1917.
War was declared against Germany on April 6, 1917, and by the beginning of August nearly all units of the Colorado National Guard were mobilized for service in France. Colorado’s combat arms units provided replacements on the front lines as well as crucial artillery support in most of the major campaigns near the end of the war, including the Meuse Argonne campaign.
During WWII, Colorado National Guard units served with pride in both European and Pacific theatres. Colorado’s 157th Infantry Regiment provided a significant contribution to the invasion of Italy and southern France -- eventually liberating the notorious Dachau labor camp on April 29, 1945, after 511 days in a combat zone and four beach landings as part of the 45th Infantry Division. The majority of Colorado’s artillery units served in the Philippine Islands for two years.
Following the war in June 1946, the 120th Tactical Fighter Squadron of the Colorado Air National Guard was federally recognized as the first Air National Guard unit in the nation, one year prior to the establishment of the U.S. Air Force in 1947.
In 1953, the 120th Tactical Fighter Squadron organized an aerial demonstration team called the “Minute Men” making it the first and only Air National Guard precision aerial demonstration team. At the height of its popularity, the “Minute Men” performed in more than 100 air shows for more than three million people in 47 states and five foreign countries.
Elements of the Colorado Guard were recalled for federal service in 1950 for the Korean Conflict, in 1961 during the Berlin Crisis and again for the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. In 1968, during the Vietnam Conflict, the 120th Tactical Fighter Squadron became the first Air National guard unit to be called to combat duty as a whole, flying over 5,900 combat missions from Phan Rang Air Base.
After the Cold War, the Colorado Guard mobilized for Operation Desert Shield/Storm in 1990-1991, as well as Operations Northern and Southern Watch. Colorado Army National Guard Special Forces units were sent to Haiti to help stabilize that country in 1994-1995. When the Balkans became a hot zone in 1999, Colorado’s air ambulance and military police units responded as part of Operation Joint Forge. During the late 1990s, the Colorado Air and Army National Guard were the first Guard units to stand up around-the-clock space missions in defense of our nation.
Hours after the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, Colorado Soldiers were activated to provide additional security at sensitive sites across the state including DIA. Dedicated aircrews launched defensive aircraft in support of Operation Noble Eagle to guard America’s skies, an ongoing mission that continues today. Following the 9/11 attacks, every deployable unit in Colorado has been mobilized (some more than once) in support of the Global War on Terrorism.
Over the years, the Colorado National Guard has supported thousands of counterdrug and search-and-rescue missions as well as dozens of call-ups for floods (including the Big Thompson Flood and Hurricane Katrina), wildfires, blizzards and tornadoes. They have aided authorities for prison riots and pursued escapees, bank robbers and murderers (including the Cortez Manhunt), as well as the Columbine High School shootings. Additionally, Colorado Citizen Soldiers and Airmen have supported massive state missions such the Pope’s visit as part of World Youth Day in 1993, the G8 Summit in 1997 and the Democratic National Convention of 2008.
The Colorado National Guard has served our nation, state and communities across Colorado anytime, anywhere, always ready, always there.