The Modernization of the National Guard (1900-1916)
History of The Iowa National Guard
CW2 David L. Snook
America’s mobilization for the Spanish-American War demonstrated that both the Regular Army and the National Guard were unprepared for modern warfare. Subsequent battlefield successes notwithstanding, the need for reform was clear to all. The process of reform was initiated, in 1899, by the distinguished Secretary of War, Elihu Root. Advances in weapons, training, financing and organization aided the Regular Army but failed to benefit the National Guard. In 1902, Major General Charles W. Dick, commander of the Ohio Division of the National Guard and a member of the U. S. House of Representatives, became president of the National Guard Association. General Dick, working with Secretary of War Root, proposed legislation which would place the National Guard on an equal footing with the Regular Army. The final version of the law was a compromise between what National Guard Association wanted – an organization properly funded, equipped and trained, and what many career officers of the Regular Army wanted – a federally oriented reserve force, freed from state control.
The 1903 Dick Act, which replaced the old Militia Act of 1792, divided all male citizens between the ages of 18 and 45 into the organized militia (National Guard) and the reserve militia. In addition, it mandated that, within five years, the organization, pay, discipline and equipment of the National Guard be the same as that of the Regular Army. Increased federal funding would compensate Guardsmen for summer training camps and joint maneuvers with the Regular Army. States were required to hold at least 24 drills (instructional periods) each year, and some National Guard officers could now attend Regular Army schools. The War Department assigned Regular Army officers to each state as advisors, instructors and inspectors and enabled states to exchange outdated weapons and equipment for current issue. The War Department also created the Division of Militia Affairs., the forerunner of the National Guard Bureau, to oversee National Guard organization and training.
Membership in the National Guard remained voluntary, and governors retained control over National Guard mobilization. The Dick Act’s nine-month limit on federal service was an improvement over previous restrictions. Most National Guard leaders, however, favored removing all limits to federal service. A 1908 amendment lifted the nine-month restriction and permitted Guardsmen to serve outside the continental United States.
The Dick Act was a landmark. It created a stronger and more professional National Guard to serve as the nation’s second line of defense. To some extent, the new law formalized many already existing practices. In Iowa, Regular Army advisors had attended annual encampments since the late 1880s, and Guard units had participated in joint maneuvers with Regular Army personnel since the 1890s. Increased federal funding permitted more regular inspections. It also encouraged more joint-training activities. A rotation system was developed so that each year one of the Iowa Guard’s four infantry regiments could train with Regular Army troops at Fort Riley, Kansas. The quantity and quality of equipment also improved. In 1903, the entire Iowa National Guard was equipped with the 30 caliber United States Magazine rifle, and officers were issued revolvers, holsters and new regulation sabers.
Increased federal funding for training and equipment allowed the state to spend a greater portion of its military budget on facilities and training areas. In 1907, the Iowa General Assembly established a permanent Iowa National Guard training site on 78.5 acres of land located just north and west of Des Moines. In 1910, the place was named Camp Dodge. The development of Camp Dodge was slow but steady. A "modern, well-equipped" rifle range was completed in 1908, and permanent buildings, including a new state arsenal, were completed in 1914 and 1915. Additional land purchases expanded Camp Dodge to 571 acres by 1917.
The increased level of both federal and state support was soon to bear concrete results. In August of 1907, the first all-Iowa encampment took place. The entire Guard of the state participated in field maneuvers held at the new state training site (Camp Dodge) and surrounding areas. In these "war games," Colonel James Rush Lincoln, commander of the 55th Infantry, led the Brown Army, while Colonel Frank W. Bishop, commander of the 54th Infantry, led the Blue Army. Guard officers would later describe the maneuvers as "the greatest field service rendered by them, not excepting their participation in like service with United States troops at Fort Riley." (1908 Adjutant General’s Report)
In 1908, the Iowa Guard was armed with the new Springfield rifle, model 1903. The new Iowa State Rifle Range at Camp Dodge was completed that same year. A training rotation was soon developed that included annual qualification firing for all units within the state. An All-Iowa Rifle Team was organized. It would consistently place high at the National Rifle Competition held annually at Camp Perry, Ohio. The 1910 team finished fourth, defeating "all National Guard teams and one of the Service teams." Two members of the Iowa team, Captain Fred Hird and Sergeant John Jackson, went on to earn spots on the 1912 Olympic team.
The period from 1900 to 1916 saw a remarkable transformation in the National Guard, both nationally and in Iowa. Improvements in facilities, training and evaluation produced a well-trained, well-equipped military force, which could be could be confidently called on to support the Regular Army in any future emergency. Fortunately, the reforms were completed just in time to prepare the Guard for its next challenges – the Mexican Border Service of 1916 and World War I.