Michael Patterson Jr. couldn’t have received a grander induction into the New York National Guard.
After successfully passing his physical Tuesday morning, the 17-year-old Ballston Spa High School junior took his oath standing before several hundred guardsmen gathered at the Division of Military and Naval Affairs Headquarters in Colonie. And the one swearing him in just happened to be Maj. Gen. Patrick Murphy, the state’s highest-ranking guardsman.
“It was pretty amazing, actually,” beamed the young recruit after the ceremony. “When I imagined joining the military, I didn’t imagine being sworn in by a general.”
Patterson was among five who happened to join the Guard on the day its soldiers commemorated its creation. On the same day 375 years ago, the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed a law establishing formal three militia companies, a precursor that would eventually evolve into the Guard as it exists today.
In New York, the Burgher Guard was organized by the Dutch East Indian Company in 1640 to help protect New Amsterdam from its English neighbors in Massachusetts and Virginia and from hostile natives. The force became the New York Provincial Militia after the state came under English control and was renamed to the National Guard in 1824 in honor of a similarly named force led by American Revolutionary War hero the Marquis de Lafayette.
Soldiers from the Guard and its Colonial precursors have served in every war fought by the United States. The force has also been on the vanguard of humanitarian missions, often in response to natural disasters.
New York guardsmen most recently responded to the massive flooding left by Tropical Storm Irene in late August. More than 3,200 guardsmen were ordered into action throughout the state to conduct roughly 250 missions in a 14-county area in the aftermath of Irene and when Tropical Storm Lee struck about a week later.
There are about 10,500 Guard soldiers and roughly 6,000 airmen in New York. Murphy said many of them seamlessly blend into their communities until they are called into action.
“On most days, we look like everyone else in these communities. Generally we’re not noticed,” he said in remarks during the ceremony. “Yet make no mistake, when disaster strikes or conflict arises, the National Guard transforms.”
Having a strong force of guardsmen — many of them part-time — also allows the U.S. military to operate in a leaner fashion. Murphy said the cost of keeping a guardsman active represents pennies compared to the dollars spent elsewhere by the U.S. Department of Defense.
“We are a full-time force at a part-time cost,” he said.
The recruits sworn in Tuesday expressed pride in the force they were joining and excitement about the broad array of missions the Guard could bring them.
Harley Young, a 21-year-old student at Hudson Valley Community College, said the Guard will give him a chance to continue his education while serving his country.
“I wanted to serve my country, but I also wanted to serve my community,” said the Clifton Park native, who expects to train in military intelligence with the Guard.
Recruit Don Pestuglicci is hoping the Guard will open up future opportunities.
The 28-year-old communications major attending the University at Albany will attend officer candidate school in May.
“In the Guard, I can have a family, a job and serve my country at the same time,” he said.
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