National Guard in DC Briefed on 'Use of Force, Self Defense' in Lead-Up to Inauguration

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National Guard members President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration ceremony
National Guard members walk from Union Station to the Capitol Building as events get under way for President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration ceremony, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Leading up to today's inauguration of President Elect Joe Biden, military lawyers with the District of Columbia National Guard have briefed 25,000 Guard members on their mission, including the legal parameters around use of force in event of rioting or protests.

Over the last two weeks, the Pentagon has deployed Guard members by the thousands into the city at the request of the U.S. Secret Service and federal law enforcement.

Some Guard members have been sworn in as special police and authorized to be armed with M4 carbines to support law enforcement protecting government officials at the Capitol Hill inauguration site.

Maj. Don Cravins Jr., a command judge advocate with the D.C. Guard's staff judge advocate office, is one of several lawyers and paralegals charged with briefing soldiers and airmen the mission's rules and guidelines while they are in D.C.

"Knowing and understanding the rules related to the use of force, self-defense and defense of others and rules of conduct are vital keys to ensuring a successful mission," Cravins said in a Jan. 17 Guard news release, describing how Guard members have been trained using "real-life training scenarios" to make sure they understand their mission.

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"My teammates and I brief them on the rules of conduct, the use of force and de-escalation techniques, the laws of the District of Columbia and on Department of Defense regulations, Cravins said. "The safety and protection of the public is our top priority at the District of Columbia National Guard."

The massive Guard contingent in the city will remain in place as long as federal law enforcement needs it, Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told reporters at the Pentagon Tuesday.

"Upon completion of the inauguration, we will continue to support federal law enforcement as requested," Hokanson said.

The Secret Service and other federal law enforcement agencies requested 25,000 troops for the inauguration, but that number could shrink rapidly to the initial 6,200 Guard members mobilized immediately after the Jan. 6 breach of the Capitol by pro-Trump rioters, Hokanson said.

"We brought on 6,200 for 30 days on Jan. 7 ... and that number can go up or down depending on the lead federal agency requirements or federal law enforcement requests," Hokanson said.

"After the inauguration, we will look at the conditions and the environment and the mission set that we are asked to perform. And if that is below the number of personnel that we have, then we will start identifying those [units] and get them home as quickly as possible."

The unique mission has presented some challenges for the Guard, such as working with the FBI to run background checks on Guard members deploying to D.C. -- an effort that resulted in 12 service members being pulled from the mission because of questionable activity in their backgrounds, Hokanson confirmed Tuesday.

Despite the challenges of the mission, Hokanson beamed with pride at how quickly Guard forces from all across the country were able to respond to the emergency mission.

"Our ability to move 25,000 soldiers and airmen to D.C. from every state and territory in less than two weeks would not have been possible without the support of our governors and their adjutants general; it speaks volumes about America's investment in the National Guard," he said.

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

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