Defend the Guard—A Grassroots Movement With an Important Goal

The potential of this movement to help reign in our unconstitutional foreign policy cannot be overstated.

Over the past couple of months, the topic of war has dominated the news cycle as the Russian government continues its appalling invasion of Ukraine. This war has highlighted the fact that a country sending its military into a sovereign nation to use violence and force to fulfill the political agendas of that country’s elites is a disgusting abuse of power that costs the lives of soldiers and civilians on both sides of the conflict, not to mention the destruction to infrastructure and the economic toll that war also entails. Many people in the U.S. were quick to condemn this ongoing invasion, and rightly so, but at the same time we seem to have failed to recognize an important lesson that we should take away from this awful situation.

Many U.S. citizens appear to view the actions of the Russian government as a window into a strange scenario that could only happen under an autocratic regime, but in reality, it’s more like a mirror showing us a dark reflection of our own foreign policy. Far too many of our government officials, both elected and unelected, have abused their authority over the years by using our military to invade foreign countries, destabilize foreign governments, and occupy foreign lands for decades; they have also misled us into each and every one of those conflicts. The brave men and women who sign up to serve this country and defend the Constitution should not be manipulated into participating in these military interventions that don’t pertain to our national security and only further the political agendas of warmongering politicians.

One demographic that understands this unfortunate reality better than most is those who have served in these wars and have seen the effects first-hand. Many people, including veterans and active-duty service members, have tried to draw attention to this issue and convince our elected officials to end our military interventionism abroad, but our politicians continue to engage in their warmongering habits and many U.S. citizens seem more than content to allow such behavior.

A group that has been fighting to bring an end to these unconstitutional military interventions is Bring Our Troops Home, a nonpartisan grassroots organization based out of Idaho that is “dedicated to ending American involvement in the Middle East and bringing our troops home,” according to their website. Their founder and chairman, Sgt. Dan McKnight, is a 13-year veteran who served in the Marine Corps and the U.S. Army, as well as the Idaho National Guard.

Bring Our Troops Home has taken on a project called Defend the Guard, a movement with the intention of passing state-level legislation prohibiting the deployment of National Guard troops for combat overseas without an official declaration of war from the U.S. Congress, which is a requirement embedded into the Constitution in Article I, Section 8. The last time Congress issued such a declaration was 80 years ago, in 1942. Every war since then has been waged without going through the proper constitutional process, a trend that has led to an era of Forever Wars.

“The modern Defend the Guard movement was started by Delegate Pat McGeehan of West Virginia,” McKnight told me over email. “Pat is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and served as an intelligence officer throughout the Middle East. In 2015 he introduced the bill in his home state, and continued to do so year after year. It takes principle to keep up that sort of thankless work, being the lone legislator sponsoring a bill. But that perseverance paid off.” He goes on:

In 2020 my organization Bring Our Troops Home adopted Defend the Guard as our cornerstone project. I was attracted to the bill because of its bottom-up, grassroots aspect. I know good people who work in Washington DC trying to make a difference. But they keep rolling the boulder up the hill just to have it roll back down. The War Party has had eighty years to entrench itself on the Potomac, and it’s never good strategy to fight the enemy on their turf. Defend the Guard takes the debate over U.S. foreign policy and our Constitution to the state level. In my experience state legislators are more accountable to voters than their federal counterparts, are braver, and are more well-intentioned. Most of them haven’t had the chance to sell their soul to leviathan yet. And unlike Washington DC, you don’t have Lockheed Martin and other Pentagon welfare queens spending millions of dollars to elect toadies to the legislature in Boise and other state capitols. My organization combats them on a level playing field.

It may come as a surprise, but National Guard troops are deployed for combat far more often than most people realize (myself included). “Even though they don’t get enough credit,” McKnight told me, “the National Guard has been the backbone of the U.S. military during the Global War on Terror.” Many people probably assume that the National Guard is only deployed within our borders to provide assistance in situations like natural disasters and mass civil unrest, but that’s not always the case. According to McKnight:

45% of the personnel deployed in the past twenty years have been Guardsmen, and they’ve incurred 18.4% of the military casualties. As recently as December 2020, 57,000 National Guardsmen were deployed overseas. Most of their activity is labeled as training missions or non-combat assistance, but this purposely obscures what’s happening. For instance President Biden has announced an end to the combat mission in Iraq. But that doesn’t prevent either local militias or other extremist groups from launching rocket attacks on the 2,500 American troops we still have in country. Their lives and safety are at constant risk, but they’re not in combat because Joe Biden says so? Or in Africa, where our Guardsmen are constantly deployed on opaque missions with no available information on where they are, who they are with, or what they’re doing. How many National Guardsmen are participating in illegal dirty wars in Africa right now? The Pentagon won’t tell us. I hope a side effect of our Defend the Guard efforts and the debates taking place in state legislators is more daylight being shown on the Department of Defense’s machinations. The American people deserve to know what their sons and daughters are involved with.

When you consider how often our government unconstitutionally deploys our National Guard overseas, it becomes clear why passing Defend the Guard legislation is so important. I would personally love to see every unnecessary U.S. military intervention come to an end, but that won’t happen overnight. If enough people put in the effort, however, I do believe it is possible, and Defend the Guard is a great step in the right direction.

McKnight told me that there were 31 states with legislators willing to sponsor the Defend the Guard bill in 2021 and that they’re on track to have it introduced in 40 states by the end of this year. If one state can successfully pass this bill it will set an example to others, and as more states follow suit it will significantly increase the likelihood of Defend the Guard legislation passing across the country. The potential of this movement to help reign in our unconstitutional foreign policy cannot be overstated.

Here, in my home state of Utah, local resident David Iglesias heads Defend the Guard – Utah, working locally to try and get this important bill introduced in the state legislature. He has also spread the word about the movement through his Unrestrained Thoughts podcast. For anyone reading this who wants to learn more about the Defend the Guard movement or about some of the history of the National Guard and its original purpose, I would recommend listening to Episode 8 where David interviews Sgt. Dan McKnight and Episode 11 with Peter Gilbert of the Utah Air National Guard. (Disclosure: David and I went to high school together and I can attest that he is a good guy with an excellent podcast. He also suggested to me that I write this article.)

I’ve long been an advocate for ending these wars, and I firmly oppose any attempts by our politicians to drag us into newer conflicts. However, I personally am not a veteran of any kind, so I was curious to get the opinion of someone who has actually served in the military.

I talked to my friend Dave Shepherd who told me he “was 5 years active duty USMC Rifleman. 3rd battalion 3rd Marines,” and that he also “worked as a designated Marksman with FAST (Fleet Anti Terrorism Security Team) which is a quick reaction force for AFRICOM and Centcom.” Considering his five years of military experience compared to my strictly civilian perspective, I asked him about his opinion on Defend the Guard to which he replied:

I am a big fan of the Defend the Guard project. It is a good place to start, in the context of keeping American military action legal and transparent. It is the Citizens’ responsibility to champion these issues because a vast majority of those in uniform are patriotic professionals and will rise to any challenge placed in their path by their chain of command. My main point with the last comment is American military personnel (active, National Guard) have little opportunity to be political when called into action. America has a strong military heritage, and (in my opinion) those in uniform cannot risk sacrificing the effectiveness of the military with internal politics. The military is a machine, not a social think tank, so it is the voters duty to fight for only just and lawful use of their military force.

I personally believe that Defend the Guard has great potential to strike a blow against proponents of these Forever Wars and to prevent our politicians from sending even more National Guard troops into harm’s way overseas. The passage of this legislation across the country could possibly reach even further than that, however, as it would be a giant step toward eventually ceasing all unnecessary U.S. military engagements around the world.

For those who want to help support Defend the Guard, McKnight proposes several ways to do so:

The best way to support the Defend the Guard movement is to support Bring Our Troops Home. Ours is the only organization involved with Defend the Guard at a grassroots level. We’re the ones finding bill sponsors, we’re the ones nailing down committee hearings, we’re the ones spreading the message nationally. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. If you’re a veteran, reach out; we’re always looking for people to testify in front of legislatures. If you’re a civilian, contact your local representative or state senator and encourage them to sponsor Defend the Guard. And most importantly, make a financial contribution by joining our supporters’ group, the Ten Seven Club. The name represents October 7, 2001 when American soldiers first hit the ground in Afghanistan and launched the Global War on Terror. The name is a reminder of why we’re here and will serve as a beacon until we bring our troops home completely. You can sign up at TenSevenClub.com.

I’ll end with the words of Sgt. Dan McKnight, as this last quote of his fully encompasses the purpose of this article: “If you believe in the Constitution and the American experiment in self-government, if you believe these endless, illegal wars in the Middle East have been bad for our country, and if you agree with a majority of veterans that we need to bring our troops home, then you ought to support Defend the Guard with everything you’ve got.”

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Steven Craddock

Steven Craddock is a Utah based writer. His writing touches on topics such as politics, economics and culture. You can follow his writing on Substack at stevencraddock.substack.com.

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