As a territory of the United States, Puerto Rico participates in the U.S. military rather than having its own military. Puerto Rican soldiers fought with General Bernardo de Gálvez, Governor of Louisiana, in some of the final battles of the Revolutionary War. Soldiers from Puerto Rico took part in the Civil War, when they were identified as Spanish immigrants since Puerto Rico was still a Spanish colony at the time. In 1899, Congress authorized the creation of the Battalion of Porto Rican Volunteers for service on the Island.
The first shot of World War I under the U.S. flag was fired by Army Lt. Teofilo Marxuach at El Morro Castle. More than 18,000 men and women served in World War I. The Selective Service law, which established the military draft, was passed on May 18, 1917. It excluded Puerto Rico, even though Puerto Ricans were at that time American Nationals and would otherwise have been eligible for the draft. On May 20, Puerto Rico’s territorial government demanded that Puerto Rico be included, for the sake of equality. 236,000 Puerto Ricans registered for the draft in that year.
The soldiers who went to Panama during that conflict became the 65th regiment, the Borinqueneers, who received the Congressional Medal in 2016. They served in World War II and distinguished themselves in combat in the Korean War.
This regiment became the core of the National Guard after segregated units were abolished in the 20th century. Wikipedia states that “the PRARNG [Puerto Rico Army National Guard] was recognized as one of the most versatile and best prepared state militias of the United States” in 1999.
What doesn’t Puerto Rico have its own army?
We have been asked this question and we are happy to answer it, though it shows a misconception about Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is a territory belonging to the United States. It is not an independent country. The U.S. Constitution says that states cannot have their own armies, though they are allowed to have militias, like the National Guard. This is Article I, Section 10, Clause 3 of the Constitution:
“No State shall, without the Consent of Congress, lay any Duty of Tonnage, keep Troops, or Ships of War in time of Peace, enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.”
This doesn’t specify the rules for territories, but the Territorial Clause of the Constitution says, “The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States.”
Puerto Rico has a National Guard, including an Air National Guard, and a State Guard, which is also part of the National Guard, under the authority of Governor Pierluisi.
In many cases, Puerto Rico is treated as though it were a state. This is one of those cases.
However, as a territory, Puerto Rico is not always treated like a state. For example, the thousands of men and women in military service in Puerto Rico through its history have not been able to vote for their Commander in Chief — Puerto Rico voters are disenfranchised from the presidential elections. Puerto Rico voters also have no senators to represent them in Congress, and just one non-voting Member of the House. As a state, Puerto Rico will have seven representatives in Congress.
Do you live in a state? If so, you have more representation in American democracy than residents of Puerto Rico. Tell your legislators that you want to see them on the right side of history. Let them know that you support statehood and that you want them to do the same.