Photo: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

Today marks the birthday of the National Guard, our nation’s oldest force.

The brave men and women of the Army and Air Force National Guard are the descendants of the men and boys who rallied to Lexington and Concord to fire “the shot heard ’round the world.” They are every bit as important today. In spite of this, the U.S. is rewarding their sacrifices with massive cuts that will weaken their ability to protect America into the future.

In the First and Second World Wars and in Korea, National Guard units were called up to augment their active-duty brethren. In major wars, they come on duty and amplify America’s military power. Today, we have the best-trained National Guard we have ever fielded. They perform this traditional mission without equal.

The post-9/11 world has shown that there is another huge mission for the Guard: being an operational reserve in smaller wars, which last a long time, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan. The modern active-duty force is not large enough to conduct continuous extended operations over a period of years without augmentation from the Guard.

The bottom line is simple: The National Guard remains an essential part of our national defense structure. Without it, the U.S. would be left hobbled. Sadly, we are headed in that direction.

Those who think looming cuts under sequestration will inordinately affect the Guard are right to be concerned. If it happens, the readiness posture of America will crumble as a result.

Let’s celebrate the long service of the Minutemen—both past and present. The nation owes them a debt of gratitude that will never be adequately repaid. We can start with Congress and the Administration giving them the support they need and have earned.