Army secretary departs amid questions about the National Guard's Capitol riot response
By ALEX HORTON | The Washington Post | Published: January 20, 2021
WASHINGTON — Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy resigned Wednesday, he said in a letter to the military's largest branch, capping a term of tumultuous moments that ended with the unprecedented use of the National Guard at home.
His departure also comes amid questions about his role in readying National Guard troops to respond to the U.S. Capitol riot in Washington D.C. on Jan. 6, and about whether delays contributed to the disastrous outcome. His responsibilities included overseeing the use of Guard members in the District.
McCarthy's resignation ends speculation about whether the Biden administration may have retained him for further service. McCarthy, a former Army Ranger who served in combat, was one of a handful of early Trump appointees to reach the end of the administration.
"When I was a young officer, I bought into an oath that I would never fail my comrades and continue to believe in that same oath today," he wrote in the letter.
The military's role and responsibility during the Capitol protest, and if delays of soldiers worsened the deadly incident, has come under intense scrutiny.
Former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund told The Washington Post that law enforcement colleagues in Congress hesitated to deploy nearby National Guard members as throngs of rioters stormed the building, citing uneasiness about the images of soldiers guarding the halls of government.
In the aftermath, McCarthy told Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., that because local and congressional authorities didn't articulate additional needs ahead of the event, the D.C. Guard was not prepared for other contingencies such as the need to respond swiftly to an insurrection at the Capitol, according to notes on the call that Crow released.
McCarthy also said that because of a lack of coordination and preparation, there wasn't a functioning operations center at the Pentagon to manage the small Guard presence on the streets at the time, according to Crow.
McCarthy's legacy will remain mixed, defense analysts and military experts have said.
His efforts to modernize the force against foes such as China and Russia, and candid assessments about how the Army prioritizes costly programs, have won him praise at a time when defense budgets will remain flat.
But that focus was overshadowed last year by a wave of deaths and disappearances at Fort Hood that revealed systemic leadership failures at the Texas post. McCarthy fired or suspended 14 Fort Hood leaders at the installation following a review of the command there.
The reckoning came after the disappearance and death of Spec. Vanessa Guillén, who was killed by a fellow soldier on the installation in the spring. Her death, which drew attention from lawmakers, activists and celebrities, "shocked our conscience and brought attention to deeper problems," McCarthy said in December.
Critics also said McCarthy has not fully acknowledged the consequences of a mission he approved in June, in which two National Guard helicopters flew low over demonstrators gathered in D.C. to protest the police killing of George Floyd.
One of the helicopters, flying in what experts described as a show of force meant to disperse civilians, descended as low as 45 feet, The Washington Post estimated. An investigation into the incident was launched but has not been publicly released.
McCarthy also oversaw a tremendous activation of the National Guard in 2020 that spilled over into this year.
Troops deployed by the thousands for coronavirus-related missions, to help quell civil unrest and to help fight fierce wildfires that tore along the West Coast. It was the largest mobilization of the Guard since World War II.
More than 25,000 National Guard members mobilized to help protect President Joe Biden's inauguration.
John Whitley, head of Army financial management, will be the Army's acting secretary, the service said Wednesday, until the position is filled by the incoming administration.
The Washington Post's Paul Sonne and Missy Ryan contributed to this report.