Aerial view of encampment at Sea Girt, NJ circa 1930
Recent deployments follow a tradition of New Jersey Guardsmen answering the call
In May 2009, the New Jersey Army National Guard’s 50th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) completed the state’s largest combat deployment since World War II, with nearly 2,900 soldiers returning from a 10-month mission in Iraq.
Since September 2001, thousands of New Jersey Air and Army Guardsmen have deployed in support of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. They continue a military tradition that predates the state of New Jersey.
During the French and Indian Wars of 1746-1748 and 1755-64, New Jersey supplied a unit of more than 2,600 men. The regiment became known as the Jersey Blues because of the color of their uniforms.
To this day, the 50th IBCT carries the designation of Jersey Blues.
New Jersey was a major battleground during the American Revolution, but troops from the Garden State served as state militia and detached militia in battles from Virginia to Canada.
New Jersey’s militia participated in other early conflicts, including the Fort Recovery Call Up, the Whiskey Rebellion, the War of 1812 and the Mexican War. In 1791, a battalion became part of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Regiment in action against Indians near Fort Recovery, Ohio.
Five New Jersey regiments were summoned during the Pennsylvania Insurrection of 1794, commonly called the Whiskey Rebellion. In the war with Mexico from 1846 to 1848, five New Jersey militia companies sailed for Vera Cruz, Mexico and three companies were recruited for the U.S. Army’s 10th Regiment.
The 1st New Jersey Brigade included the majority of officers and men called up for the first muster in support of the Union cause in 1861. Brigade components were the nucleus of 37 regiments of infantry, five artillery batteries and three cavalry companies.
During the Civil War, many free black men in New Jersey tried to join their local militias and volunteer units. African-Americans who didn’t enlist or weren’t transferred into the service of the U.S. Colored Troops ended up serving with the 1st Militia and the 1st New Jersey Cavalry until the end of the war.
During the Spanish-American War, the Garden State supplied four regiments. In 1916, the 1st New Jersey Brigade, consisting of the 1st, 4th and 5th regiments, plus three batteries of artillery and cavalry, was sent to patrol the Mexican border in response to raids by Pancho Villa.
During World War I, the New Jersey Guard joined other Guard units, primarily from Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, as part of the 29th Division (Blue and Gray). The New Jersey units were the 112th Artillery, 113th Infantry, 114th Infantry, 104th Engineer, 119th Medical and the 102nd Cavalry.
These units participated in the battles of Alsace, Verdun and Meuse-Argonne. After the war, the state’s Guard became part of the 44th Division, with African-American units designated as the First Separate Battalion New Jersey Guard.
In 1930, New Jersey formed its first Guard aviation unit-the 119th Observation Squadron.
Back to the Front
Elements of the New Jersey Guard were federalized in late 1940 as the United States prepared for its possible entry into World War II. Jersey units served for the entire war and earned many honors, participating in the campaigns of North Africa, Normandy, Ardennes-Alsace, Northern France, Rhineland, Central Europe, Aleutian Islands, Philippines and Okinawa.
The 44th Division marched across France into Germany, and then into Austria. It defeated the 6th S.S. Mountain Division, freed 6,000 Allied prisoners of war, accepted the surrender of the 19th and 24th German armies and took more than 30,000 prisoners.
Its troops apprehended rocket scientist Werner von Braun, who later helped develop the American space program.
The majority of 44th Division units served four years and nine months.
On July 15, 1946, the 50th Armored Division was activated. The 44th Infantry Division was allotted to the state of Illinois and the 50th inherited the lineage and honors of the 44th. The 50th Armored Division was deactivated in 1991 and the New Jersey units became part of the 42nd Infantry Division of New York.
Later came the establishment of the Air Guard. By May 1949, New Jersey had organized the 108th Fighter Group, consisting of two fighter squadrons and service units. On Oct. 1, 1993, the 108th Air Refueling Wing was reorganized with the 170th Air Refueling Group and the 150th Air Refueling Squadron.
The 177th Fighter Wing can trace its heritage back to the 119th Aero Squadron, which existed briefly beginning in 1917 at Langley Field, Va. In 1962, the unit became the 177th Tactical Fighter Group.
In 1972, it changed its designation to the 177th Fighter Interceptor Group. It became the 177th Fighter Group in 1992, and finally the 177th Fighter Wing in 1995.
The wing has been activated twice to federal service since World War II.
The outbreak of war in Korea in 1950 caused the call-up of the 108th Fighter Wing, the 108th Fighter Group, the 141st Fighter Squadron, the 108th Air Base Group, the 108th Maintenance and Supply Group, the 108th Medical Group, the 141st Weather Station and 105th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron.
Army Guard units called were the 112th Artillery Group Headquarters, the 695th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, the 30th Ordnance Battalion, the 122nd Ordnance Company, the 63rd Army Band and the 150th Engineer Pontoon Bridge Company.
During the Berlin Crisis of October 1961, the 108th Tactical Fighter Wing and its support squadrons deployed to Chaumont, France, to augment NATO forces. The 112th Artillery Group Headquarters, 30th Ordnance Battalion, 122nd Ordnance Company, 114th Surgical Hospital, 141st and 253rd transportation companies reported to stateside posts for federal duty.
The 117th Tactical Fighter Group and the 119th Tactical Fighter Squadron were ordered to active federal duty in 1969 following seizure by North Korea of the USS Pueblo. Some group personnel were subsequently assigned to installations throughout Southeast Asia, Korea and the United States. Pilots and other airmen joined combat units in South Vietnam.
Army Guard Reorganization
A 1958 reorganization of the Army Guard made it mirror the active-component Army. In addition to the conventional division and nondivisional units, the New Jersey Army Guard organized NIKE HERCULES missile batteries that were manned around the clock and fully integrated these installations into the national air defense system. The 1st Battalion, 254th Air Defense Artillery, was inactivated in 1974.
Three units of the state’s Army Guard were mobilized for the Persian Gulf War of 1991, and one additional unit was mobilized for stateside service. In all, more than 700 New Jersey Guard soldiers and airmen participated in support of Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.
The 170th Air Refueling Group and the 108th Tactical Fighter Wing merged at McGuire Air Force Base to form the 108th Air Refueling Wing with 20 KC-135E Stratotankers. The wing provides worldwide tanker support for U.S. and NATO aircraft.
The unit has deployed frequently to Southwest Asia and Turkey in support of U.S. operations. In 1999, it was mobilized for the air war over Yugoslavia, part of the effort to eject the Serbian military from Kosovo.
The 177th Fighter Interceptor Group would transition into the 107th Fighter Wing, flying the F-16 Fighting Falcon in defense of U.S. airspace. It, too, was mobilized for the air war over Yugoslavia.
New Jersey Guardsmen were among the first to respond to the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
Shortly after the attack, F-16s from the 177th provided air cover over New York City and the eastern seaboard. Meanwhile, other Army and Air Guard units quickly established a command post at Task Force Liberty in Liberty State Park and began security patrols at bridges, airports, tunnels and nuclear facilities.
The New Jersey Army Guard was also responsible for Task Force Respect, which was set up at the Freshkills landfill in Staten Island where debris from the World Trade Center was sifted and the remains of victims were carefully collected.
Since 9/11, the New Jersey Guard has made numerous deployments around the world in support of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. Garden State units have also served in peacekeeping operations in the Sinai and Bosnia.
These deployments are ongoing and the tempo of current operations makes it certain that New Jersey’s soldiers and airmen will continue to serve their state and nation.
Thanks to Retired Col. Leonard Luzky for this historical record. Col Luzky served in the New Jersey National Guard and is on the board of the National Guard Militia Museum of New Jersey