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National Guard | Boots on the ground

Given the ferocity of the pro-Donald Trump mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol building on January 6, and intelligence from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that further attacks may be planned, authorities in Washington are taking no chances and deploying close to 20,000 National Guard troops to secure proceedings for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20. However, questions remain as to why the National Guard were not deployed in force on the day of the mob attack.

Events of January 6

While the Guard in Washington was under the command of President Trump on the day of the Capitol attack, the orders to deploy are typically issued by the Secretary of the Army at the request of the Mayor. On that fateful day, other officials also weighed in on the use of the Guard, yet the details of how exactly that decision was made is the subject of debate.

The most controversial aspect of the action taken on January 6 is that despite pleas to the Pentagon from Washington DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, for National Guard boots on the ground, officials were quoted as saying that Director of Army Staff Lt. Gen. Walter Piatt said he could not recommend his boss, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, approve the request and that he did not like “the visual of a line of National Guard soldiers in front of the Capitol.”

The manner in which these events played out warrants a closer look at the role of the National Guard as a protective force, the command-and-control structure that undergirds its operation, and the history of its deployment.

State-level force

Under U.S. statute, what is known as the ‘National Guard’ comprises both the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard. The former, however, is colloquially what is referred to as National Guard in the context of ground deployment, as in the case of the U.S. Capitol building attack. In this regard, the ‘Army National Guard’ refers to that part of the organised militia of the States of the U.S. as well as the country’s Territories, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. This cohort includes active and inactive troops, which together make up a land force that is trained and has statutorily appointed officers. The force is organised, armed, and equipped wholly or partly at Federal expense, and it is federally recognised.

Defined broadly, the purpose of the National Guard is to serve as a unique element of the U.S. military, for both “community and country.” It is, therefore, tasked with equal responsibility to respond to domestic emergencies as it is to overseas combat missions, anti-drug initiatives, rescue and reconstruction missions and beyond.

Typically, the authority to mobilise the National Guard rests with the Governor of the State in question or, in the case of Washington, with the President of the U.S. The terms of service of the National Guard varies from that of Army enlistment because Guardsmen are permitted to hold civilian jobs or attend college while maintaining their military training as a part-time occupation. Guardsmen also primarily serve in their home States.

History of deployment

The first militia regiments in North America were organised in Massachusetts in 1636. At the time the intent was that the colony's militia would be organised into three permanent regiments to better defend the colony. In the modern day, the descendants of those three comprise the oldest units in the U.S. military.

There have been 12 occasions since the enactment of the 1952 Armed Forces Reserve Act when the National Guard has been deployed under the control of the U.S. President, most of which were during the upheavals of the civil rights movement through the 1960s. Other than these incidents, the Guard was mobilised by the President for the New York City postal strike of 1970, the looting in the U.S. Virgin Islands after Hurricane Hugo struck in 1989, and to quell the riots after the Rodney King verdict in 1992.

Given the level of bitter polarisation in the U.S. and the periodic outbreak of violent attacks since Mr. Trump entered office, the possibility that Mr. Biden will have to deploy the National Guard during his term cannot be ruled out.

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2021 10:16:51 AM |

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