Army and Air National Guard members deploying to Washington, D.C. to help guard the capital and stay through the Jan. 20 inauguration will have access to lethal weapons at their commanders' discretion, Guard commanders said Friday.
"There's no hiding the fact that soldiers and airmen do have lethal force with them," Army Brig. Gen. David Wood, joint staff director of the Pennsylvania National Guard, said at a virtual roundtable with defense reporters.
"How those rules of the use of force are engaged is just dependent on the scenario and in that situation. We are going to try to deescalate as much as we can [before taking up weapons]," Wood said. "The way we deploy it will depend on the situation and the commander's intent."
The Associated Press reported earlier that Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy will make decisions in the coming days on whether Guard units will be armed on the District's streets.
Wood joined Army Maj. Gen. Timothy E. Gowen, adjutant general of the Maryland National Guard, and Army Col. Lisa Hou, interim adjutant of the New Jersey National Guard, at a virtual roundtable with defense reporters to describe the issues involved with their emergency deployments to Washington.
All three officers said they already had been planning to send units to the Jan. 20 inauguration of President-Elect Joe Biden, but had had to scramble Wednesday, following the pro-Trump mob assault on the Capitol, to resolve problems with the various jurisdictions and command authorities involved.
Because Washington is a federal district and not a state, District Mayor Muriel Bowser does not have authority to call out D.C.'s National Guard on her own as state governors can, but must first request activation from McCarthy.
McCarthy also must coordinate with state governors to bring in National Guard units from outside the District.
As a result, Gowen said, there was initial confusion Wednesday before Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan got clearance. Gowen said he received the order to deploy troops around 5:30 p.m., well after Trump supporters had been cleared from the Capitol building.
Then it was decided with the D.C. National Guard to wait until Thursday morning to bring in the Maryland troops, Gowen said.
"Everyone wants to help right away, but sometimes you can't," Gowen said. "We've got to accept the notion that the National Guard is not a first-responder force."
Gowen said Maryland initially planned to send about 500 troops to the District; Wood said Pennsylvania was sending about 1,000; and Lou said New Jersey was sending 500.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.