News   Defense News

National Guardsmen Returning Home After D.C. Mission

June 7, 2020 | BY Jim Garamone , DOD News

All out-of-state National Guardsmen will be returning home after accomplishing their missions in the nation's capital, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told reporters today.

Joined by Army Maj. Gen. William Walker, the commander of the District of Columbia National Guard, McCarthy said the Guard units that helped protect the rights of citizens to peacefully protest will return to Mississippi, Florida, Utah, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio and South Carolina by Tuesday. 

McCarthy stressed that no active-duty troops were used in support of law enforcement in Washington. There were about 5,000 National Guardsmen with roughly 1,500 at any one time actively involved in the mission. Twitter was alive with people reporting they saw 82nd Airborne, 3rd Infantry Division or 101st Airborne patches on the shoulders of the guardsmen. McCarthy noted that these were combat patches earned during prior duty with those active-duty units. 

Guardsmen with shields in front of them stand in formation.
At Lafayette Park
D.C. National Guard Military Police stand with shields, awaiting instructions at the Lafayette Park protest to support local authorities in Washington, D.C., June 2, 2020. During this period of social crisis and pandemic, service members strive to protect the U.S. citizens’ right to assemble while keeping them safe.
Photo By: Army Spc. Revé Van Croft
VIRIN: 200602-Z-LS030-017Y

Violence in Washington has receded and there have been no meaningful disturbances since last Tuesday, the secretary said. This includes Saturday when he estimated more than 45,000 people gathered in downtown D.C. "They rallied mostly around Lafayette Square, in front of the Capitol, along the monuments, as well as 14th and U Street," he said. “It was a day of peaceful demonstrations that really started around lunchtime and dissipated around midnight."

The trends have become positive and McCarthy and Walker are working with D.C. Metro Police Chief Peter Newsham and federal law enforcement entities to "get on a glide path to ultimately turn off the entire D.C. National Guard," he said.

The National Guard units have been remarkably successful in their support of local and federal law enforcement agencies. The Guard's twin mission was to protect people as they peacefully protest and protect national monuments.

Guardsmen stand in the path of protesters.
Protest Site
District of Columbia National Guard soldiers and airmen assist local authorities at a barricade site in Washington, D.C., May 31, 2020.
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. Tyrone Williams
VIRIN: 200531-Z-XZ018-021Z

This is a far cry from just last Sunday evening. At that time, security elements providing protection in downtown D.C. "were almost overwhelmed, and you had buildings damaged and defaced and were lit on fire, and people trying to get to the fence (around the White House)," McCarthy said.

Following the Sunday violence, there was a lot of discussion about the Insurrection Act that would have allowed active-duty forces to be assigned to the mission. This was "because we didn't know if we could put enough support into the city quickly by marshaling national guardsmen from surrounding areas — think Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware," McCarthy said. 

If that were not possible the only alternative would have been to call up active forces, he said.

Soldiers face a crowd at night.
National Guard
Members of the District of Columbia National Guard participate in a mission in Washington, D.C., May 31, 2020.
Photo By: District of Columbia National Guard
VIRIN: 200530-O-ZZ999-002H

"We made a lot of phone calls and got tremendous support from neighboring states," he said. Guardsmen rushed to Washington and provided the forces to back up law enforcement. McCarthy said that from Sunday through Tuesday, the Washington Metro Police Department made 437 arrests.

Both McCarthy and Walker made the point that the National Guard is trained yearly to provide support to law enforcement during time of disorder.

The mere presence of the National Guard seems to have a calming effect on the public. "There are photos, videos, on Twitter, Facebook, of protesters doing fist bumps and shaking hands with guardsmen," Walker savid. 

D.C. guardsmen file along a barricade.
Guard Procession
The 273rd MP Company walks toward the Lafayette Park protest to support local authorities with civil disturbance in Washington, D.C., May 30, 2020. These Capital Guardians strive to maintain readiness to keep the District’s residents safe.
Photo By: Army Spc. Revé Van Croft
VIRIN: 200531-Z-LS030-004Y

McCarthy has nothing but praise for the way the National Guardsmen handled the duty. He said he had visited with many of the units in the past week and told them all to be professional and to keep their cool. "Our men and women [who] were out there on the streets, they were talking with protesters, and they were hugging protesters," McCarthy said. "Because they recognize that we are them, and they are us." 

"But there's a lot of anger and there's a lot of frustration," he continued. "We just want people to let it out peacefully. And, ... as horrible as an event was two weeks ago, we're trying to bring a platform or a moment where we can talk and have uncomfortable conversations, and try to prevent something like that from ever happening again."