Colorado National Guard celebrates 160 years of service to communities, state and nation

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  • CONG Public Affairs

For 160 years, the Colorado National Guard has served our communities, state and nation.

The CONG dates to Jan. 23, 1860, when the 1st General Assembly of the Jefferson Territory authorized the formation of two military companies of Citizen-Soldiers – the “Jefferson Rangers” and the “Denver Guards” – to quell a lawless band of thieves known as the “Bummers.” The Bummers, as turkey thieves, terrorized the community west of present-day downtown Denver, during what became known as the “Turkey War.”

“This is a special day as we celebrate 160 years of Colorado National Guard history in the making,” The Adjutant General of Colorado U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael Loh said.  “Our National Guard Soldiers and Airmen have answered the call of our state and nation, taking their place in Colorado’s history.”

The CONG fought its first federal campaign during the Civil War.  William Gilpin, Colorado’s first Governor, organized the “Colorado Volunteers,” the official Territorial Militia, for the defense of the territory and to oppose the looming invasion of Confederate forces. The 1st Colorado Volunteers met and defeated the Texas Confederates at La Glorieta Pass, New Mexico, March 23-25, 1862, ending the Confederacy’s plans to appropriate the mineral wealth of the West.

On the night of May 19, 1864, flash flooding along Cherry Creek in Auraria, now downtown Denver, killed about 20 people and caused $1 million in property damage. The Colorado Volunteers helped save many lives by pulling people out of the flood waters using a boat that they built by hand themselves. This was the CONG’s first disaster response.

CONG units served during the Spanish American War, World War I, and in both European and Pacific theatres during World War II.  As part of the U.S. Army’s 45th Infantry Division during WWII, the CONG’s 157th Infantry Regiment helped liberate Dachau Labor Camp in Germany, April 29, 1945.  This year marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Dachau.

Following WWII, in June 1946, the Colorado Air National Guard’s 120th Tactical Fighter Squadron received federal recognition as the first Air National Guard unit in the nation, one year prior to the establishment of the U.S. Air Force in 1947.

Elements of the CONG were called for federal service in 1950 for the Korean Conflict, in 1961 during the Berlin Crisis, in 1962 for the Cuban Missile Crisis, and in 1968 in support of forces serving in Vietnam. The ’68 Call-up of the 120th Tactical Fighter Squadron was the first activation of a complete Air National Guard unit for the Vietnam War.

CONG members mobilized for Operation Desert Shield/Storm in 1990-1991, providing units on the ground in Saudi Arabia.  The CONG supported Operations Northern and Southern Watch with fighter over-watch of northern and southern Iraq, preventing Iraqi airstrikes.

Colorado was one of the first states to form alliances under the National Guard’s State Partnership Program, which promotes peace and security around the world.  Colorado forged strategic, enduring friendships with Slovenia in 1993, and Jordan in 2004.

Within hours after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, CONG Soldiers and Airmen activated as part of Operation Noble Eagle, guarding sensitive sites across the state, including Denver International Airport, while dedicated aircrews protected Colorado’s skies, a mission that continues today.

CONG members now also defend the homeland 24/7 using cyber, space, and missile defense capabilities. 

Thousands of CONG Soldiers and Airmen have deployed for the warfight since 9/11. 

Through its state mission, the CONG has assisted civil authorities to save lives, reduce suffering, and mitigate great property damage during floods, wildfires, blizzards, hurricanes, a tornado, and even a grasshopper infestation. Using specialized rotary wing hoist capabilities, the CONG has helped ground rescue teams save hundreds of victims in Colorado’s high country.