On this day in 1860, on the heels of the Gold Rush in the American West, pioneers found themselves under attack. A lawless band of shady characters, known as the "Bummers," terrorized Auraria, west of present-day Denver, during what became known as the "Turkey War." The community organized two companies of citizen soldiers — the "Jefferson Rangers" and the "Denver Guards" — who came to the rescue.

After ejecting the Bummers from the community, under threat of hanging, the companies disbanded, but not for long. In 1861, Colorado became a territory, and its first governor organized a militia in Denver called the "Colorado Volunteers" which later became the Colorado National Guard.

Colorado sorely needed a defensive force. During the Civil War, in 1862, Confederate forces made a run for its mining resources. They met their defeat at the hands of the 1st Colorado Volunteers at the Battle of Glorieta Pass in New Mexico Territory. Two years later, flash flooding along Cherry Creek in Auraria killed 20 people and caused millions in property damage. The Colorado Volunteers used boats to pluck victims from the water, saving many lives.

Of course, the idea behind Colorado's decision to organize a local militia wasn't new. In 1636, 140 years before the birth of our nation, the Massachusetts Bay Colony established three regiments of militia.

Our National Guard celebrated its 380th birthday Dec. 13, making it America's oldest military force.

While we mark this birthday each year, we should also take note of the National Guard's role and contributions throughout its long history.

Since 1636, we've never failed to answer the call. In our state role, we've been always ready, always there, as the first military responder to domestic emergencies. In our federal role, we've fought in every conflict beginning with the Revolutionary War for our independence. In fact, until World War II, the National Guard's strength exceeded the active Army's, which meant that, until then, more National Guard members than regulars fought in our nation's conflicts.

While our Constitution authorized the state militias, the Dick Act, in 1903, codified circumstances under which organized militias could be called into federal service and provided federal funds to ensure the National Guard's readiness.

For example, after Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered, under the authority of the Dick Act, the entire National Guard into active service. He federalized more than 300,000 troops, effectively doubling the regular Army.

Thus, by law, our National Guard augments the active component in time of war. Because the Guard is the nation's primary combat reserve, our units must meet the same training, education, and other readiness requirements of active duty units. Furthermore, our officers, appointed by the governors, are federally recognized.

For nearly four centuries, the National Guard's dual state-federal organization has guarded our communities without the economic burden of a much larger standing force. Our community-based National Guard is a uniquely American innovation of which we should be proud.

As we begin a new year, let's vow to increase our investment in the capacity, capability, and readiness of a foundational force — available for employment both overseas and at home — that requires a fraction of what the Active Component costs.

Let's grow and use our enduring National Guard to achieve the security that our nation both needs and can afford.

Major General Edwards is The Adjutant General of Colorado. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.