While thousands of the 26,000 National Guard troops deployed to D.C. for President Joe Biden's inauguration last week have been sent home, some are staying put for the foreseeable future. Around 5,000 Guard troops will remain in the nation's capital through mid-March, Guard leadership announced Monday.
This week, 7,000 Guard troops remain in the city fulfilling various requests for support from different agencies. By mid-March that number will decrease to 5,000. While this is a significant drawdown from the 26,000 activated for the inauguration, it still remains a largely unprecedented force. Even during the peak of civil unrest protests last summer following the death of George Floyd, the Guard's D.C. presence only reached 5,100 troops.
The 5,000 remain to fulfill a request by the U.S. Capitol Police, Acting Secretary of the Army John Whitley explained. Over the coming weeks, several "events" are expected in the city including possibly "lawful protests used by malicious actors, Whitley added. The Guard remains in the nation's capital to support should those threats come to fruition.
The force remaining in D.C. will also include a Quick Reaction Force of 500 Guard members -- half Army component and half Air component, Politico reported. The QRF will stand guard each day from midnight until noon through Feb. 28 to support D.C. Metropolitan Police.
And while the Guard remains in D.C. so will the military's ongoing struggle with optics. Last week, Guard troops were reportedly removed from the halls of the Capitol complex where they had been taking brief nap breaks and using restrooms since the riots on Jan. 6 -- and sent to take their breaks in a Senate parking garage.
Photos of troops sleeping in parking garages caused outrage among lawmakers and resulted in a hasty reassignment of break areas, although D.C. Guard leadership was eager to clarify that those troops were only taking breaks.
"Every single Guardsman has a hotel," Maj. Gen. William J. Walker, commanding general of the D.C. National Guard said of the troops sleeping in parking garages. However, Walker explained, with 12-hour shifts comes the need for short breaks -- breaks during which some troops may sit or even sleep in the break area.
COVID-19 outbreaks have also been a concern among the tens of thousands of Guard troops active in Washington, D.C.'s 68-square-miles of territory over the last week. So far, 200 have tested positive for COVID-19, Guard leadership reported, and while they are "very concerned" about these cases, Chief of the National Guard Bureau Gen. Dan Hokanson pointed out that 200 out of 26,000 is still less than one percent of the total force in the city.
Those 200 are currently in quarantine and will not be allowed to travel home until cleared. A 14-day restriction of movement was pre-scheduled into the deployment schedules of those activated for the inauguration.