By the nature of its mission, the Massachusetts National Guard is a part-time military force unless, of course, it is called into Federal or state service. However, in the history of the Massachusetts Militia/National Guard, there have been full time units by necessity. The first full time unit was the Castle Island Garrison assigned to the fortification often called Castle William now part of South Boston. The defenses had been first built by the militia in 1634 to guard the entrance to Boston Harbor.
The Commonwealth decided to organize an artillery company in 1791 to man the batteries as a defensive measure against enemy ships. The garrison consisted of three officers, a chaplain and 60 enlisted soldiers. The company was also given the additional duties of operating the state prison and conducting health inspections of incoming ships. On 2 October 1798 the Castle Island Garrison was disbanded when Castle Island was transferred to the War Dept.
The second fulltime unit was designated as the Flying Column, Massachusetts State Guard. Since the entire National Guard was in Federal service during World War II, the Adjutant General decided that he needed a quick reaction force that consisted of a fulltime platoon of State Guardsmen which was organized in September 1943.
The mission of the flying column was to assist local police during strikes, riots, natural disasters and to repel enemy submarine landings. The unit was stationed at the old Cambridge Armory where the State Guardsmen were required to live and train. The Flying Column was disbanded in September 1945.
The next call for full time units came in 1955 when the Massachusetts National Guard stood up the 704th and 772nd Antiaircraft Artillery Battalions with the mission of operating eight fulltime gun sites. Each gun site consisted of a radar and four 90mm guns manned by 15 fulltime soldiers augmented by M-Day personnel 24 hours a day. The mission was to shoot down enemy bombers. This was one of the Guard’s most important missions during the Cold War.
The 90mm guns gave way to the Nike Ajax and Hercules missiles. The On-Site Air Defense Program stood down in 1974.
In the mid-1990s, the Department of Defense saw a need for specially-trained National Guard units to work with civil authorities in incidents involving suspected weapons of mass destruction.
The 1st Military Support Detachment was constituted on 1 October 1998 at Natick; in 2000 it was re-designated as the 1st Civil Support Team. The team consists of 22 full time Army and Air personnel. The 1st CST, a highly-trained unit, is on-call 24 hours a day.
While the enemy threat has changed over the past 200 years; full time Massachusetts National Guard units have stood ready to protect the Commonwealth and its citizens just as it has been doing since 1636.