Governors Captain State Naval Militias
By Kathleen Hunter, Staff Writer
Convention duty is just one example of the increased homeland security role taken on since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks by the 4,400-member New York Naval Militia with its four state-owned patrol boats.
While a majority of states have some sort of standing militia - an idea rooted in colonial times - just four have their own naval forces. But today's security-intense climate is breeding new uses for the obscure naval forces and is stirring interest in California in forming one there.
New York's naval militia dates back to the Revolutionary War and is the oldest, continually active force of its sort in the nation. Its part-time members are drawn from U.S. Navy, U.S. Navy Reserve and U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, who can choose to serve simultaneously in the state militia.
In addition, Alaska, New Jersey and Ohio have naval militias that are dormant until activated by the governor to back up the state's National Guard in defense of the home front.
New York's naval force, relying on Marine reservists, provided support near Ground Zero in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Gov. George Pataki (R) recently directed the force to patrol the state's nuclear power plants, including Indian Point on the banks of the Hudson River in Westchester County, directly north of New York City. The force also periodically conducts other patrols along the Hudson.
With significant numbers of National Guard troops overseas in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, the force that governors traditionally rely on to respond to stateside natural and man-made crises has been depleted.
"They are an additional source of manpower, of strength that the governor can call on to bolster our security force," said Lt. Col. Paul Fanning, public affairs officer for the state headquarters of the New York National Guard.
When called to active duty, New York's militia members are paid from state coffers, as are National Guard members called to state active duty. But unlike National Guard members, they are paid nothing unless they are activated. National Guard members are paid from both federal and state monies.
Because the force is drawn from military reservists, the state relies on training from the military, making the naval militia even more cost-efficient, Fanning said.
States have used naval militias for duties other than defending against terrorism. Alaska's naval militia was used in 1989 to support clean-up efforts after the Exxon Valdez tanker dumped almost 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound. Ohio, which is bordered to the north by Lake Erie, has a three-vessel, 30-member naval militia that patrols the waters near Camp Perry, the world's largest firing range, to prevent injuries from falling ammunition.
The increased security demands of a post-Sept. 11 world have prompted officials in the California Military Department to launch a formal study of whether the state should form a naval militia.
Like New York, California is a large state with pockets of extremely dense population and is home to numerous national landmarks and critical infrastructure that could position it in the crosshairs of a terrorist plot.
The Golden State also has hundreds of miles of coastline that a naval militia could help patrol, said Lt. Col. Doug Hart, public affairs director for the California National Guard.
California's naval militia likely would be drawn from the approximately 22,000 Navy and Marine reservists in California.
Although he has not taken a position on the naval militia, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) recently signed two bills that would extend educational benefits and a $10,000 death benefit to members of a state naval militia, along with National Guard and conventional militia members.
Questions have been raised about whether a state naval militia could patrol California' s coastal waters or whether that power belongs to the U.S. Coast Guard.
Preliminary estimates are that a naval militia could cost the state about $250,000 to more than $1 million a year.