Thousands of National Guard Troops to Begin Leaving DC This Weekend

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U.S. Army National Guard soldiers with the South Carolina National Guard provide security to the 59th Presidential Inauguration.
U.S. Army National Guard soldiers with the South Carolina National Guard provide security support to the 59th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2021. (U.S. Army National Guard/Sgt. Brian Calhoun)

With President Joe Biden's inauguration complete, thousands of National Guard troops in Washington, D.C., will soon start heading home -- some as early as this weekend.

Arrangements are being made for 15,000 of the 25,600 Guard soldiers and airmen in D.C. to return home over the next 10 days, officials said.

"Some might not be needed tomorrow, and they might get approved to start that process in the next few days," Air Force Maj. Gen. Steven Nordhaus, director of Domestic Operations and Force Development for the National Guard Bureau, told Military.com on Thursday. "Some could start going home, I would say, as early as Friday or Saturday."

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Wednesday's inauguration ceremony concluded without Guard members having to face a single security threat, a stark contrast from two weeks ago when a violent mob protesting the Nov. 3 election results breached the U.S. Capitol.

Guard leaders are still in meetings with the U.S. Secret Service and federal law enforcement agencies to ensure their support needs are met, Nordhaus said.

"As those mission sets complete, we are focused on a very professional, very controlled, very deliberate focus to get those service members ... back to their states, so they can get back to their civilian lives and back to their families," he said.

Approximately 7,000 Guard troops are expected to remain in D.C. through the end of January, according to a National Guard Bureau news release.

Demobilization can be complex and include equipment turn-in, travel arrangements and COVID-19 screening.

"Maybe they come off mission today, tomorrow or the next day and begin to then turn in their equipment," Nordhaus said.

Guard members said they were prepared for just about anything going into the Inauguration but were pleasantly surprised that it turned into a peaceful day.

"Yesterday went exactly as I think all of us hoped it would," Staff Sgt. Dave Williamson, a platoon sergeant in the Maryland National Guard's 231st Chemical Company, told Military.com. "It was uneventful ... other than the new president being inaugurated. As far as unrest or protests or anything like that, there really wasn't a whole lot going on."

Williamson said there were a few protesters "who had some choice words, but outside of that, that was probably the biggest thing that we saw."

Despite the peaceful setting, the inauguration support mission proved stressful at times behind the scenes, said Nordhaus, who has served in the Guard for 22 years. Before that, he flew F-16 Fighting Falcons for a decade.

"My concern was always just making sure that we didn't miss anything; we thought through each and every one of the tens of thousands of obstacles to make sure that all of our Guardsmen were taken care of, they were fed, they were at the right location, they had hotels, they had equipment and they knew where they were supposed to be," Nordhaus said.

"I just couldn't be more proud of how the D.C. National Guard really brought together and worked with the 50 states and three territories ... and interagency partners to make sure that we really pulled off an amazing feat ... yesterday by having the right people in the right location and able to protect what was a great, peaceful transfer of power."

Spc. Maxwell Leon-Guerrero was excited to be part of the 59th inauguration, but knew that there was uncertainty about what his unit would face Wednesday.

"We don't get complacent," the 28-year-old combat engineer from the Maryland Guard's 253rd Engineer Company (Sapper), told Military.com. "There is always a possibility that something can come up, and we are always ready."

Like Leon-Guerrero, Spc. Mitchell Harris was in D.C. in June to support law enforcement as demonstrators protested the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died while in the custody of the Minneapolis police.

"Each one of us [was] ready for the worst, but we are happy that the best happened," said Harris, 21, who is also with the 253rd.

Williamson said his biggest challenge as a leader was watching out for some of his less experienced soldiers.

"We have had a lot of new soldiers who were fresh out of training and haven't had a lot of operational experience," the 37-year-old said.

Maryland is one of a handful of states that sent Guard troops to D.C. less than 24 hours after the Jan. 6 siege of the Capitol, which left five people dead.

"I would say that every one of my guys was not only ready but willing and wanted to come down and support this mission because they knew how historic and what this meant, not only for the country now ... but being a part of the process moving forward and getting back to a unified country," Williamson said. "A lot of things happen in your career, but how many people can say they were there in 2021 and helped keep the peace and get the country moving forward again?"

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

Related: The 26K Guard Troops in DC Did Not Face a Single Inauguration Security Threat: Top General

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