‘This Is What I Took an Oath For:’ Guard Troops Shore Up DC in Wake of Violent Siege

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Staff Sgt. Eric Kuper of the D.C. National Guard U.S. Capitol
Staff Sgt. Eric Kuper of the D.C. National Guard stands in a line of dispersed Guard members across the street from the U.S. Capitol as workers erect seven-foot tall security fencing on the morning after the Jan. 6 riot that breached the Capitol. (Matthew Cox/Military.com)

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Hundreds of National Guard troops on emergency mobilization orders began arriving Thursday to reinforce security in the city a day after the violent breach of the U.S. Capitol that left five dead.

Supporters of President Donald Trump became an angry mob Wednesday afternoon and forced their way into the Capitol building, terrifying lawmakers and halting the official count of Electoral College votes to affirm President-elect Joe Biden's victory.

Command Sgt. Maj. Jimmy Nugent, the command sergeant major of the Maryland Army National Guard, was working at headquarters when his wife called and told him to turn on the news.

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"She said, 'Are you watching the news? Do you see what is happening?" Nugent told Military.com, adding that he was stunned at the footage. "I was shocked, I was sad, and I was angry; things like that do not happen in the United States of America. We are a nation of laws and a nation of law and order. That was not supposed to happen."

The Pentagon has authorized up to 6,200 Guard members from Maryland, Virginia, New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania to deploy to D.C. on federal status to maintain security through Inauguration Day.

D.C. National Guard stand a security post U.S. Capitol
Staff Sgt. Ronald Vasquez (left) and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Daniel Wood of the D.C. National Guard stand a security post across from the U.S. Capitol as supporters of President Trump drive by in a red pickup flying a Trump flag on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. (Matthew Cox/Military.com)

Most Guard members in Maryland were at home when the call came at approximately 7 p.m. Wednesday to pack their rucksacks with cold weather gear and be ready to move out by 6 a.m. Thursday.

Cpl. Daniel Morozevich, a 37-year-old infantry team leader with the Maryland Guard's Delta Company, 175th Infantry Battalion, said he was at home taking down his Christmas tree as he watched Trump supporters enter the Capitol on the news.

He spent most of the night getting ready to depart Thursday morning.

"I had just moved into a new house, so everything was in boxes," Morozevich said. "So, it took me some time ... to pull out all my cold weather gear and throw it in a ruck."

Brig. Gen. Janeen Birckhead, commander of the Maryland Army National Guard, said she started telling staff to begin preparing after watching the situation in D.C. deteriorate on the news.

"For me, I am always going to be prepared," Birckhead told Military.com. "We don't want to be late to need, so anytime we see our neighbors right next door [in trouble], we say, 'OK, there is a possibility.'"

About 500 Maryland Guard soldiers, many from the 175th Infantry and the 115th Military Police Battalion, arrived at the District of Columbia National Guard Armory building by bus and tactical vehicle Thursday.

"Because of what has been going on with COVID-19 operations, we are at a high state of readiness already, so it really didn't take much to say, 'I need to shift this group of people to do this' because we are already rolling in to support the Inauguration, and those soldiers were already coming in next week," Birckhead said.

D.C. Armory Maryland Army National Guard
Brig. Gen. Janeen Birckhead, commander of the Maryland Army National Guard, talks with 2nd Lt. Carter Brockman, a signal officer with the 115th Military Police Battalion, as the 500-member Maryland Guard contingent sets up operations outside the D.C. Armory after deploying to D.C. Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021 to help with security in the aftermath of Wednesday’s riot. (Matthew Cox/Military.com)

Maryland Guard troops will wear Operational Camouflage Pattern uniforms without tactical gear, she said.

"Soldiers do not have weapons ... no body armor," she said, adding that the contingent brought riot shields and protective facemasks if the need arises.

"We are guarding on the Hill. We are going to be specifically around the Library of Congress, the Senate and House office buildings in support of the Capitol Police."

Before leaving, Birckhead, who has served in the Guard for more than 25 years, reminded her soldiers to maintain their professionalism, saying this mission is "what it means to serve our country."

"We are not political; we are apolitical, and we are here to serve the citizens of the nation and of the region," Birckhead said. "We are here to serve. We are here in support of the D.C. National Guard, the Capitol Police and the District of Columbia,, and that is what we are here to do.

"And they were like, 'Got it, ma'am.'"

On Monday, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy authorized a request from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser for Guard support, sending 340 Guard troops into the city to man roadblocks and stand posts at Metro stations.

On Wednesday, Trump addressed thousands of supporters who showed up to support the president's unsubstantiated claim that massive voter fraud had stolen his victory. Trump urged the crowd to march on the Capitol, which they soon did, breaking down temporary barriers and pushing past federal police to storm the building.

Lawmakers were forced to shelter in place as Trump supporters walked through the halls, destroying offices and breaking windows.

Shortly after the chaos, many in Washington criticized the security plan, raising questions about why there weren't more security measures in place prior to the well-announced event.

A female Air Force veteran was shot and killed in the riot, and two men and another woman died of medical emergencies. On Thursday evening, U.S. Capitol Police announced that an officer had died of injuries sustained during the incident.

McCarthy defended the decision to stage just a few hundred National Guard members around the city before the breach, saying that the Army was given unclear information about how many protesters would be in Washington, D.C., this week.

Later in the evening, the Pentagon activated all 1,100 D.C. Guard members to reinforce police.

Staff Sgt. Eric Kuper, a 42-year-old D.C. Guardsman, was working at the D.C. Armory on Wednesday in his Active Guard Reserve (AGR) status job, preparing orders for fellow soldiers.

By Thursday morning, he was standing post in a dispersed line with other D.C. Guard members across the street from the Capitol as workers erected seven-foot tall security fencing.

Trump supporters occasionally drove by in cars with Trump flags hanging out the windows.

"We are just trying to make sure people are safe while the fencing is being put up," Kuper told Military.com.

He said he was surprised by what happened Wednesday just as he was during the riots that occurred in June in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, a Black man, in the custody of Minneapolis police.

"Whether I was in the Guard or not, I didn't think I would see that, nor did I think I would see what happened in June," he said. "This has been a crazy six months. I am happy to serve my country and do my job. If anything is our job, this is certainly our job."

Morozevich echoed Kuper's sentiment.

"Everyone has a right to say what they want to say and practice their freedom of speech. It's a federal building, it is paid by tax dollars and essentially it is open to the public as long as they follow the rules," he said. "They can come in and watch the proceedings that go on, but they can't stop the democratic process from taking place. They can't instill fear into our elected officials. So whatever we need to do to maintain the peace, to maintain the government and to allow the democratic process to function in this country -- that is what I took an oath for."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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