Do you like to watch war movies? Do you dream of performing heroic deeds? Do you wonder how snappy you would look in a military uniform? Can you see yourself in the role of George C. Scott in Patton, standing in front of a massive American flag, exhorting troops to fight bravely?
Maybe you missed your chance to enlist in the armed forces, but we have good news for you. If you are a male citizen of the United States, there’s a pretty good chance that you are, were, or will be a member of the U.S. militia, whether you know it or even like the idea.
Generally, we think of the U.S. Armed Forces as consisting of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. Additionally, every state has a national guard, commonly referred to as the militia. Article II, section 2 of the Constitution says, “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States….” In other words, the president has the authority to pull any or all of the National Guard of any or all of the states into active federal service when necessary.
If all of these trained soldiers, sailors, marines, and aviators aren’t enough, the president has one more arrow in his quiver. A provision in U.S. law that dates back at least 200 years creates the “unorganized militia.” The relevant statute, 10 U.S.C. §§ 311–12, 331–34, states:
§311. Militia: composition and classes
(a) The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard.
(b) The classes of the militia are—
(1) the organized militia, which consists of the National Guard and the Naval Militia; and
(2) the unorganized militia, which consists of the members of the militia who are not members of the National Guard or the Naval Militia.
In other words, if you are male (sorry, ladies; you are not included in this band of brothers) and are a citizen of the United States or have ever said that you intend to become a citizen, and you are able-bodied, Uncle Sam has you from your 17th birthday until the day before you turn 45. If you are currently within that class, congratulations; you are a member of the unorganized militia of the United States. Are you an able-bodied male U.S. citizen over the age of 45? Well, let us be the first, Veteran, to thank you for your service.
What does it mean to be part of the unorganized militia? No, you should not claim the parking spots reserved for veterans, and it’s probably not a good idea to insist that your co-workers snap to attention and fire off a salute whenever you walk into a room.
The purpose of the unorganized militia becomes clear under chapter 15 of the same title. In the event of an insurrection or rebellion, the president is authorized to call up the militia — National Guard and unorganized — to the degree necessary to suppress the uprising.
While we are confident that you are a fine specimen of physical perfection, unfortunately, the same can’t be said of all of your comrades in arms in the unorganized militia. The next time you are on the subway or your local shopping center, take a look at the men between the ages of 17 and 45. Consider how desperate circumstances would have to be if the survival of the USA had to be entrusted to that pot-bellied fellow who finds his well-worn pajama pants appropriate attire for every public occasion. Nevertheless, if push comes to shove, even ol’ saggy britches can be called into active service, given a weapon, and sent out to protect motherhood, apple pie, etc.
There’s one more thing to consider. Each of the fifty states has a similar law regarding the unorganized militia for the defense of that state. If you are a member of the unorganized militia of the USA, you are likely a member of the unorganized militia for your state, as well.
So…. Thank you for your service — times two.
Now, drop and give me 50, soldier!