It was a quiet day for the roughly 25,000 members of the National Guard sent to defend Washington against a potential second insurrection attempt during President Joe Biden’s inauguration.
It was “uneventful,” Lt. Col. Marshall Hunt — who commanded some 300 National Guard members from New York stationed at the Supreme Court and Library of Congress — told Military Times.
“Uneventful equals success for us,” he added.
The New Yorkers were part of a contingent of National Guard that had long been slated to provide increased protection during the Jan. 20 inauguration.
But things changed after the Capitol was attacked on Jan. 6, by supporters of then President Donald Trump attempting to overturn the election results. Five people were killed in the violence, including Capitol Hill Police officer Brian Sicknick, a New Jersey Air National Guard veteran.
In the wake of that deadly siege, 100 National Guard members were added to the activation and the mobilization was sped up a few days. Similar activations took place in Guard units from all 50 states and Washington.
“It was a really really cool experience, I love doing Army type things, especially something as important as this, so I was really willing to drop everything and come here,” Spc. Robert Coonan, who has been in Washington since Jan. 8 said.
“On the other hand, it was a little last minute, of course I had to finish off a lot of stuff, rather quickly,” he added.
The soldier left behind a fishing business and his fiancé of one year.
The sudden deployment was not the first of Coonan’s year. In March he activated to aid his community deal with the growing COVID-19 pandemic.
“I always really liked handing out food to people, because it was directly saving someone or really helping someone out which is great,” Coonan said.
Coonan’s story is like many of the citizen soldiers of the National Guard who flooded into the nation’s capital after the early January insurrection attempt.
“We have to be more vigilant and prepare soldiers, make sure we take different gear in case those scenarios were to occur,” Sgt. Alicha Smoot with the Oregon National Guard said on Tuesday, about the changes to her mobilization to the Capitol.
The soldier was one of 30 from Oregon who were already slated to come to Washington for the inauguration before the Jan. 6 assault happened.
For many coming to beef up security in Washington was a chance to be part of history, for almost all it was service to their community and country, the reason they signed up in the first place.
“Ever since I was a kid I wanted to join the military, and one of the biggest thing is to assist, protect and serve, and that always just intrigued me to be on the public and help people,” Smoot added.
For Coonan, beyond being part of history it was great to see how appreciative the locals were with the National Guard standing post, even though they were often disrupting the lives of locals.
Two kids, roughly 4 and 6, showed their appreciation by dropping off cookies to the post was standing, the soldier said.
“It’s definitely a unique experience I never thought I would be doing that but I mean I’m helping protect other citizens in America,” Coonan said of standing post in the nation’s capital.
Worries had mounted
Though Wednesday was quiet for the most part, a peaceful and uninterrupted transfer of executive power was not always the expected outcome.
On Jan. 11, five days after insurrectionists threatened the lives of lawmakers and vandalized the Capitol, the FBI warned of armed protests taking place on the Capitol grounds, as well as at state capitals around the nation.
While the 30 members of the Oregon National Guard were standing post in Washington, the rest of their unit was activated and sent to Portland to help protect the state capitol.
“Every mission is important, the only thing that would bum me out is if we stood here and they got to actually go be part of a riot,” Pvt. Joseph Malloy said Tuesday.
Though Malloy wants to use his military training, having to do so to defend the Capitol against a second insurrection attempt would make him said for the country Malloy said.
“But I hope they’re safe and that they do what they need to do,” he added.
Concerns of a threat from within
As steel fences and concreate barriers, manned by members of the National Guard went up all around Washington, the FBI warned of a potential insider attack at the Capitol.
Ultimately 12 members of the National Guard were flagged during a background check and sent back home.
Two of those removed from their posts were flagged for “inappropriate comments or texts,” Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the Nation Guard Bureau, told reporters on Tuesday.
“Soldiers in general, realize they need to remain apolitical while they are in uniform… 99.999 percent of soldiers, understand that,” Hunt said.
“But the army is at the end of the day, the National Guard, is just a slice of our society so we’ll have a few here and there that don’t follow those rules and regulations,” Hunt said about the soldiers removed from their posts.
No soldiers under his command were removed as part of the background check, Hunt said.
Hunt said the massive presence of the Guard in Washington did its job by deterring any attempts to attack the inauguration.
“Ultimately we are here as a deterrent and the fact that it is uneventful is a testament to our presence here,” Hunt said.
The commander went on to say his soldiers were motived by their role in American history.
“The safety and security of the transfer executive power in the United States of America is a pretty unique and important mission, and the soldiers utilize that motivation,” Hunt said.