Task Force Calls for Permanent National Guard Force to Protect DC

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National Guard stand their posts around the Capitol at sunrise.
National Guard stand their posts around the Capitol at sunrise in Washington, Monday, March 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

A task force charged with making recommendations to boost congressional security after a deadly Jan. 6 pro-Trump mob assault on Capitol Hill has proposed establishing a permanent military presence ready to go at a moment's notice in Washington, D.C.

The security review, led by retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who ran military relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina, recommended establishing a permanent National Guard quick reaction force, or QRF, for all of D.C.

A QRF is a standard military security element meant to provide swift reinforcements.

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"This could be done by mobilizing military police from Guard elements across the U.S. on rotations of three to six months," the task force's report states. "Another option would be to create a QRF that permanently resides within the D.C. Guard by reestablishing a military police battalion and staffing it with active Guard reserve troops who live in or near the city year-round, perpetually on active duty."

The proposal notes that military forces should be a supplement to a law enforcement QRF. Establishing a permanent National Guard presence could be a costly measure for the military, especially if states must continue to rotate troops and equipment in and out. Basic Allowance for Housing for an Army specialist, the most common rank in the force, is $2,520 per month in the D.C. area without dependents. That is on top of standard pay.

National Guard troops also must maintain civilian jobs, which could be a challenge. Guard troops would have to stay activated under federal orders for legal protections from employer retaliation.

Troops, if serving under Title 32 federal orders under a presidential emergency declaration, would also accrue benefits under the Department of Veterans Affairs, such as qualifying for the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The VA spends an average of $17,400 per GI Bill beneficiary, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Under the current law, the president would have to declare a constant state of emergency for Guard troops to accrue federal benefits.

Immediately after the mob stormed the Capitol, 26,000 Guard troops from around the country were mobilized. About 5,200 remain on the Capitol security mission. Five people died during the siege, including Capitol Hill police officer Brian Sicknick.

The recommendations come a week after the commander of the D.C. National Guard testified that unusual restrictions by the Pentagon during the Trump administration hindered his ability to quickly deploy troops as the mob assaulted Capitol Hill.

Maj. Gen. William Walker told members of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs that he could have begun sending Guard members to support D.C. law enforcement, under siege by a rioting crowd, hours earlier but was hampered by a strict Pentagon approval process, indecisive leadership and sluggish communication.

To combat the slow military response, the task force report makes an unprecedented request to give the commander for the D.C. Guard the authority to deploy troops without the president's permission under extreme circumstances -- something that could raise significant questions on the integrity of civilian control of the military.

"We recommend … the commanding general of the D.C. National Guard shall retain 'emergency authority' ... in extraordinary emergency circumstances where prior authorization by the president is impossible and duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situation, to engage temporarily in activities that are necessary to quell large-scale, unexpected ‘civil disturbances’ when necessary 'to prevent significant loss of life or wanton destruction of property and are necessary to restore governmental function and proper order,'" the report states.

-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.

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