The Secretary of Defense and the commander of the District of Columbia National Guard have both ordered investigations into reports of Army Guard helicopters that appeared to fly dangerously low over crowds of protesters Monday night.
Army UH-60 Black Hawks and UH-72 Lakota helicopters flew low enough over demonstrators, who were defying the District's 7 p.m. curfew, to kick up debris on the crowds, videos taken by those on the ground show.
"I hold all members of the District of Columbia National Guard to the highest of standards. We live and work in the district, and we are dedicated to the service of our nation," Maj. Gen. William Walker, commander of the DCNG, said in a news release posted on the command's website. "I have directed an immediate investigation into the June 1 incident."
On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper also said he was concerned by reports he had received and had directed Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy to probe the matter. It wasn't clear yet, he said, who had directed the flyover or what it was intended to accomplish.
"Those are some of the details we have to tease out, in terms of who directed it," Esper told reporters in a Pentagon briefing.
Esper said he'd received conflicting reports about the matter, including one that the helicopters had been asked by law enforcement to assess a National Guard checkpoint from the air. Although at least one of the aircraft bore medical markings, he said he understood their mission not to be a medevac.
"When you're landing that low in the city, it looks unsafe to me," he said. "We have to find out what's going on."
The DCNG said in its release that it was looking into the use of a medical evacuation helicopter that was assigned to the Joint Task Force DC operation.
The flyovers occurred after President Donald Trump gave a speech Monday afternoon pledging to use all federal and military resources available if states don't put an end to the looting and violent riots that were ignited after the death of George Floyd, a unarmed black man who died May 25 after being taken into Minneapolis police custody.
Esper joined Trump on a Monday call with governors, in which the president urged states to get much tougher on protesters. During the call, which was leaked to The Washington Post, Esper said, "We need to dominate the battlespace."
Also Monday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper ordered about 1,600 active-duty troops from the XVIII Airborne Corps to deploy outside D.C. if needed. The deployment consists of an infantry battalion from the 82nd Airborne Division; the 16th Military Police Headquarters out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina; and the 91st MP Battalion out of Fort Drum, New York.
Defense officials did not name the infantry battalion in a Tuesday night announcement, but the unit is designated as Task Force 504.
In addition to the active-duty units, the D.C. Guard has been fully activated, and more troops have been sent to the District from Utah, New Jersey, Indiana, South Carolina and Tennessee to support local law enforcement. In total, more than 20,000 Guard troops have been deployed across the country in response to civil unrest.
Walker ordered the investigation of the low-flying helicopter maneuvers "to ensure all involved complied with applicable procedures and safety regulations," the release states.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.