As many as 25,000 members of the National Guard could be in Washington, D.C., for the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on January 20. Thousands more will travel to state capitols across the country in preparation for demonstrations that law enforcement believes could turn violent. The National Guard is a huge organization that currently has 434,334 members. Of those, 328,444 are members of the Army National Guard and 105,890 are members of the Air National Guard.
The National Guard has a unique reporting structure. It is responsible to the “leadership” in the 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia. However, the U.S. president also can mobilize the National Guard under federal law. Members are also members of the Organized Militia of the United States, under General Military Law “Section 246. Militia: composition and classes.” Predecessors of the National Guard date back to 1636. Most members are part time and have civilian jobs. Under “32 U.S. Code § 102,” the National Guard is defined, among other things, as “an integral part of the first line defenses of the United States be maintained and assured at all times.”
The National Guard is not only large, it has a wide number of missions. Among those, it is involved in possible control of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attacks on the nation. It has 12 Cyberspace Operations squadrons. It also has units that help with combating drug trafficking.
The National Guard has been called upon when the United States is involved in wars or other combat missions overseas. Fairly recently in its century’s long history, the North Carolina Army National Guard’s 1452nd Transportation Company was the last part of the regular U.S. military to depart Iraq, on December 28, 2011. Members of the National Guard had been in the country since 2004.
Members of the National Guard receive a number of benefits offered to other arms of the U.S. military. These include medical benefits, financial support for college and other continuing education, medical retirement and childcare benefits.
Currently, the National Guard has two visible activities, each of which reflects part of its missions. One is to help deploy COVID-19 vaccine across America. The other is to offer military support for the presidential inauguration. National Guard members have traveled from as far away as Idaho, which sent 300 members to augment the District of Columbia National Guard and support the U.S. Secret Service for the presidential inauguration.
Its role in Washington, D.C., will not be usual. Major General Michael Garshak, adjutant general of Idaho, made the point, “The National Guard has participated in every presidential inauguration in our nation’s history.” Perhaps, there is no other case where the threat the National Guard faces is as large as it will be this week.