“Quite frankly this is not a ‘war zone,’ so the war situation should not apply,” said a guard member on the ground in DC who has deployed twice to Afghanistan.
Several National Guard units have been seen to increase their deployment unexpectedly, although most guardsmen in Washington will do so on a voluntary basis. Around 7,000 troops will continue to provide riot protection in early February, with the number coming down slightly to 5,000 by the time Trump’s impeachment trial begins.
A guard member said, “We are not going to allow any surprises again. On January 6, there is a widespread lack of preparedness for insuring.”
There is also some concern over a possible unrest around March 4, with some QAnon conspiracy theorists believing that Trump will be inaugurated for the second time.
A spokesman for the Capitol Police did not respond to a request for comment.
National Guard troops were stationed in the capital city following the January 6 riots in the Capitol, when Trump’s supporters attacked the building, while Congress was certifying President Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory. The House attacked Trump a week later, accusing him with “strong-willed will to rebel”.
By Inauguration Day, about 25,000 soldiers were in Washington, where unprecedented security measures were put in place to prevent similar attacks.
Now, thousands of guards members will remain in Washington until now, when they initially expected when they would pack their suitcases for a short-term mission on January. 6. The rank and file have so far been given no official justification, threat reports or any explanation for the extended mission, the two guard members said – nor have they seen any violence so far.
A member posted twice in Afghanistan said, “There is no defined position or mission statement … This is very unusual for any military mission.” “We are usually given a position, with a defined mission perimeter, and at least a temporary plan to execute those objectives.”
“Some people don’t even know how long they will stay here,” another guard member said.
A fourth guard member confirmed that soldiers were not exposed to any particular danger, but rather were concerned about the possibility of continued unrest to federal authorities. He said that areas of the far south are the biggest cause for concern.
Morale is low among soldiers, who have described standing at a time in full gear with limited access to food and water, waiting hours from their hotels and for very little sleep. Many are washing socks and cold-weather undergarments in the hotel’s bathroom sink because they do not have laundry facilities.
Some have been forced to buy their own food to supplement the sparse food they provide, which do not provide enough calories to sustain long days. Even food is difficult to come by due to ready-to-eat, logistics and transportation issues.
A guard member said, “Even if they arrive all the time, the calories are not just for the work we are spending on our feet, in the cold, in full gear.”
The vast majority of Guard members do not have full-time soldiers, but also civilian jobs. Many are law enforcement officers, firefighters and small business employees with families battling bills and childcare during the epidemic. For many, the deployment of DC means a week of lower wages in their civilian jobs.
One of the guard members, who has deployed to the Middle East, described “extremely difficult conditions” and compared the DC mission to “invasion operations”.
“We essentially invaded and captured a city,” the person said. “It was definitely an experience that I didn’t feel I would be in an American city, much less capital.”
Trump has not commented publicly since leaving office four days ago, but he is assembling his defense team for the upcoming trial. If the former president urges his supporters to protest on his own behalf, it could severely impact law enforcement resources. Already, officers have established a perimeter around the Capitol, using a 10-foot barricade with razor wire.
Tensions between the Capitol Police and the National Guard have to deal with renewed security concerns. Last week, Capitol Police officers forced soldiers to evacuate congressional office buildings, where they were resting during their shifts, which often lasted 12 or 14 hours. Politico was the first to report that about 5,000 soldiers were packed into a parking garage on the Senate side of the Capitol, with temperatures dropping as the sun set.
The move sparked outrage from lawmakers on both sides, many of whom interfered with Capitol police officers. The guardsman was finally allowed back inside.
In addition, the National Guard has struggled to contain the Kovid-19, which has no clear test regime and some soldiers have been forced to disband their quarantine. At least 200 guardsmen have tested positive for Kovid-19, and several hundred additional soldiers are in quarantine due to the risk.
Complicated troubles for the National Guard have caused lawmakers to step in to mediate numerous disputes within the federal bureaucracy. Members of both parties were already calling for an investigation into security failures on January 6, when Trump supporter rioters instigated officers from the Capitol and DC police departments.