As concerns spread, mostly across social media, that the thousands of National Guard troops activated in response to the coronavirus pandemic could be used in support of martial law, top officials within the Defense Department are hoping to dispel those rumors.
As it stands now, the 9,000 and counting troops mobilized in every U.S. state and territory are sticking to mobile testing, logistics, transportation and other non-law enforcement support to civilian authorities, National Guard bureau chief Air Force Gen. Joe Lengyel told reporters Tuesday.
“There is no discussion, there is no plan to use the National Guard ... to do quarantine or enforce shelter-in-place operations,” he said. “Once again, no plan to use the National Guard in any sort of large-scale lockdown capacity of the United States.”
His comments echoed those of Defense Secretary Mark Esper earlier Tuesday, who in a live-streamed virtual town hall meeting suggested that the rumors of martial law were likely being stirred up by two distinct groups.
“Some of it is just people are just concerned, and scared and anxious,” he said. “And then we probably have external actors ― countries that want to sow chaos in the United States and are injecting some of this into the ecosystem, if you will.”
But there has been no discussion at the highest levels either of a national quarantine, of using troops to enforce any local restrictions “or any of the other nonsense that’s out there,” he added.
In an extreme case where a governor might turn to that, however, Lengyel said that it’s most likely Guardsmen would be paired up with local civilian law enforcement to augment their efforts.
The current situation has members helping with testing in 12 states, though medical units have not been at the forefront of the mobilizations.
Keeping in mind that many military reservists and National Guard members who serve as doctors, nurses, medics and others are also involved in patient care in their civilian jobs, leadership has been careful not to take them out of their communities.
If they aren’t, however, either because their civilian jobs are on hold during the pandemic or because they don’t work with patients on a regular basis, the Reserve and National Guard have put out a service-wide message looking for volunteers.
“If you are available and you’re not otherwise occupied in your civilian career, we’d like to know about it and access your skills elsewhere and make them available for where they’re needed around the country,” Lengyel said.
Lengyel said he expects troops continue to be activated rapidly, as governors have been calling up about 1,000 a day over the past week or so.
“We have concerns,” he said, like other agencies, that stocks of personnel protective equipment and other supplies will tighten the longer the mission goes on.
To date, 26 Guardsmen have been diagnosed with COVID-19, he said, including one member at the national headquarters outside Washington, D.C.
Lengyel said he did not know how many of those troops were part of ongoing COVID-19 response efforts.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members. Follow on Twitter @Meghann_MT