During its session in 1854, the Territorial Legislature passed the first laws in Washington providing for the organization of a militia. The Washington militia was created to meet the threat of periodic Indian uprisings. Following the defeat of the Yakimas in 1856, the Territorial Volunteers were disbanded. During the Civil War, a regiment known as the Washington Volunteer Infantry manned the forts in Washington, Idaho, and Oregon. Following the Indian Wars of 1877 and 1878, Governor Elisha P. Ferry obtained 2000 obsolete arms from the United States Army so that militia companies could be formed throughout the territory. The need for an organized militia was recognized by the first State Legislature which in 1889 approved a tax levy for the support of a military department. Washington volunteer regiments served in the Spanish-American War and in 1916 were mobilized for duty in the Mexican Border War, and again in 1917 for duty in World War I. In 1911 the State Legislature enacted a law creating a Naval Militia as a part of the National Guard. Members of the Naval Militia served on United States Naval Vessels during World War I, but were disbanded after the war due to the creation of the Naval Reserve. The Adjutant General is responsible for the operation and supervision of all activities of the Military Department. The Military Department includes both the State and the National Guard. The National Guard is that part of the military force of the state that is organized, equipped, and federally recognized under the provisions of the United States National Defense Act. The State Guard is organized under state authority only. The National Guard is maintained by the state, with federal advice and financial aid. The state mission of the National Guard is to provide trained and equipped personnel to protect life and property and preserve peace, order, and public safety. The federal mission of the National Guard is to provide units of the Reserve components of the Army and Air Force, adequately organized, trained, equipped, and available for mobilization in the event of national emergency or war. The mission of the State Guard is to replace the National Guard when it is in actual federal service.

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