Busiest year ever for National Guard shows the force should be bigger, two generals say
Stars and Stripes is making stories on the coronavirus pandemic available free of charge. See other free reports here. Sign up for our daily coronavirus newsletter here. Please support our journalism with a subscription.
WASHINGTON — The United States needs more National Guard troops, two top Guard generals said Friday as tens of thousands of part-time troops responded to recent crises including the coronavirus pandemic, racial protests, and violence in the nation's capital.
Some 72,000 Guard troops were on duty this week on missions across the country and overseas as the record pace for Guard deployments set in 2020 continued during the first month of the new year, Guard officials said. In a phone call with reporters Friday, Army Maj. Gens. David Baldwin and Bret Daugherty, the adjutant generals for California and Washington state, respectively, endorsed expanding the Guard’s overall force size while touting the resiliency of their troops.
“The bottom line is that Guard mission sets continue to increase, and the demand signal for the Guard goes up and up,” Baldwin said from California. “We’re largely victims of our own success in that regard, because the National Guard has become so professional [and] so capable, people rely on us for more and more mission sets.
“To that end, the Guard is just not big enough, and we need to grow.”
The National Guard boasts a force of about 450,000 soldiers and airmen, the vast majority who work part time for the military and also hold civilian jobs. In June, the Guard set a post-World War II record, as more than 119,000 Guard troops were activated in America and abroad, including some 96,000 who were responding to the pandemic and civil unrest missions in all 50 states.
Guard troops in Washington — the location of the first known outbreak of the virus in the United States — are nearing the one-year mark of coronavirus response, Daugherty said Friday.
“It hasn't been just a long year. It's been a long 20 years,” he said of the response. “And, I just want to focus on that — that we’re all consumed with our domestic operations right now, but they are simultaneous with our overseas deployments, which have not let up one iota.”
Guard troops are deployed across the globe in locations such as Afghanistan, the Middle East and Africa, officials said.
As of Friday, nearly 23,000 National Guard troops were activated in 38 states to support coronavirus efforts, largely focused on distributing and administering vaccines, Guard officials said. At least 7,000 Guard troops remained in Washington, where they were charged with ensuring security amid ongoing concerns among federal officials of more violence in the coming weeks. The troops were rushed into the national capital in the days and weeks after Jan. 6, when a mob of former President Donald Trump's supporters overran the U.S. Capitol in an effort to halt lawmakers from certifying President Joe Biden’s election win.
By Jan. 20, the D.C. deployments grew to almost 26,000 Guard troops — including forces from all 50 states, 3 territories and the entire 1,100 D.C. Guard contingent — to bolster local and federal law enforcement efforts to secure the city for Biden’s inauguration. Those troops have steadily drawn down, but some 5,000 are expected to remain on duty at least through mid-March, the Pentagon said Monday.
The deployments are taxing on troops, Daugherty and Baldwin said Friday.
California sent 286 of its 18,000 troops to Washington for the security effort, Baldwin said, and most of them will remain there well into March. Meanwhile, he has another 1,000 troops deployed overseas and another 1,500 activated for pandemic response. That activation is expected to grow to 2,500 in the coming weeks as California anticipates ramping up its vaccination efforts, the general said.
Washington sent about 400 of its 8,000 troops to D.C., Daugherty said. He has another 1,000 troops supporting coronavirus responses and some 1,500 preparing to deploy overseas, he said.
“We are an amazingly resilient force, but … if we had a little bit more force structure, it wouldn't be such a stretch for us to get all these missions accomplished,” Daugherty said. “Perhaps, we can find a little bit more force structure for our National Guard, because that will take some of the burden off of our soldiers, airmen, their families and employers.”
Baldwin said he would like to see thousands more troops added to California’s National Guard, where hundreds of troops last year also spent months fighting massive wildfires during one of the worst fire seasons the state had ever experienced.
“It does put some measure of strain on us, especially as we tried to preserve a significant amount of troops availability for unforeseen contingencies, like if we have a major earthquake or a tsunami,” he said. “It is quite a lot that we're asking of our part-time Guard members, their families and their employers in these tough times, but we're managing to work through it pretty well.”