National Guard members deployed in Washington, D.C., will wear special black identification vests to avoid being confused with law enforcement wearing U.S. military-style uniforms as the city tenses for demonstrations as Congress meets to affirm President-elect Joe Biden's victory.
Pentagon officials voiced concern this summer that the public misidentified law enforcement personnel and federal agents wearing the Army's Operational Camouflage Pattern, or OCP, and matching tactical gear as soldiers during violent demonstrations to protest the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis police custody.
Late Tuesday night, the District of Columbia National Guard released photos of the uniform its members are wearing as they support law enforcement in the city. Guard personnel will be dressed in Army OCP, with the addition of black vests displaying the service member's name and rank, the words "U.S. Army" and the D.C. flag on the front; and the words "D.C. National Guard" on the back.
"The black identification vest is not body armor nor a tactical vest," according to a D.C. Guard news release. "It is the traditional uniform worn by the D.C. National Guard members in multiple domestic operations including Presidential Inaugurations, the COVID-19 pandemic response, the 4th of July celebration and the 'anniversary March on Washington' in the last year."
Last summer, thousands of Guard personnel from across the country deployed to D.C., with some units wearing full tactical gear and carrying M4 carbines. In some cases, Guard members and police units standing together behind shield walls looked very similar.
"We just wanted to make sure there is no confusion on what we would be wearing," Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Craig Clapper, spokesman for the D.C. Guard, told Military.com.
The D.C. Guard announced Monday that more than 300 members would be on the city's streets Jan. 5-7 to support police after several pro-Trump groups, such as the Proud Boys, pledged to protest Wednesday -- the day Congress is set to conduct a formal count of Electoral College votes and officially name Biden as the next president of the United States.
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy approved D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser's request to have the D.C. Guard in the city to help control traffic and perform other duties during the expected protests.
The attempt to clearly distinguish D.C. Guard from law enforcement comes about six months after former Defense Secretary Mark Esper voiced concerns that police performing law enforcement duties "were misconstrued with military personnel."
The confusion became a point of contention among Pentagon leaders after U.S. Attorney General William Barr ordered law enforcement personnel to clear peaceful protesters out of a park near the White House using flash-bang grenades and pepper balls, prompting defense officials to announce that Guard members did not play a direct role in the incident.
Members of Congress raised questions about the military's practice of selling surplus equipment to law enforcement agencies, as well as the fact that federal law agents dressed in camouflage often did not display any identifiers to distinguish them from military personnel.
On Friday, Congress overrode President Donald Trump's veto of the Fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, which contains a provision addressing the identification issue, The Hill reported. When responding to a "civil disturbance," federal officers "shall visibly display" their name and the federal agency they represent, according to the site.
In August, the Department of Homeland Security told Congress that agents protecting federal buildings in Portland, Oregon, would stop wearing military camouflage uniforms to avoid confusion.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.