updated 9/22/2008 2:34:28 PM ET 2008-09-22T18:34:28

Funding for the National Guard has reached a record level amid the largest mobilization of America's citizen soldiers since World War II, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Monday.

With the increased spending, nearly 80 percent of Army National Guard equipment will be fully modernized by the end of budget year 2013, he said.

"For the first time ever, the Guard will receive the latest equipment provided to the active force — a change that is long overdue," Gates said in a speech prepared for the National Guard Association of the United States conference in Baltimore.

In the budget year starting next month, the Defense Department helped the Guard's budget reach just over $30 billion, an increase of $1.2 billion from the previous year.

Gates said spending on Guard equipment, which can be used for both overseas and domestic security missions, is projected at $32 billion over the next four years.

Members of the Guard once volunteered to join a reserve force that they believed would be mobilized occasionally for short periods of time. But the reserves have evolved into a force that makes up nearly half of the U.S. combat troops in Iraq, doing day-to-day military operations in unprecedented tours abroad.

Gates said the Army National Guard exceeded its recruiting goal this fiscal year, and less than two weeks ago, the Air National Guard met its end strength goal for this fiscal year — the first time in five years.

Today, the Guard is engaged in more than 40 countries worldwide, in places such as Bosnia, Kosovo, the Sinai, the Horn of Africa and Guantanamo Bay, he said.

Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan, Guard members have been equally busy at home, Gates said. More than 16,000 soldiers and airmen from Florida to Texas responded when Hurricane Gustav hit.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 660,000 have been mobilized — the largest force since World War II and the first extended mobilization of both the Guard and Reserve since establishment of the all-volunteer force.

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