A Look Back at 2020: D.C. National Guard Civil Unrest Mission

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Deborah Ou-Yang
  • District of Columbia Air National Guard

The D.C. National Guard was called upon to support the district’s first responders in May 2020 as protests spread across the nation following the death of George Floyd. The mission was the biggest activation of D.C. National Guard soldiers and airmen in over 40 years since the civil rights movement.

“We’re here to help and assist local authorities,” said Gen. Joseph Lengyel, Chief of the National Guard Bureau at the time. “Our troops are trained to protect life, preserve property and ensure people’s right to peacefully demonstrate.”

Upon joining the military, servicemembers swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. Citizen-soldiers and airmen of the National Guard answered the call to protect Americans’ First Amendment rights despite a potential desire to participate in the protests themselves.

National Guard units regularly practice disaster response, and longstanding partnerships with local, state and federal authorities ensure that response efforts are well coordinated. During this response, guardsmen coordinated efforts to cordon off intersections of heavily trafficked streets so that demonstrators could march freely. They also stayed alert for any violence, property destruction or other behaviors that might undermine peaceful demonstrations.

In any mission, soldiers and airmen stand ready to provide a myriad of support, including logistics and medical. This was no exception. When a civilian jogger passed out near the Lincoln Memorial, airmen from the 113th Wing, D.C. Air National Guard, performed life-saving CPR.

Guardsmen live in the communities they serve and always stand ready to ensure their neighbors' safety, even if their presence is not always embraced by those they strive to protect.

“The hardest mission we do is responding in times of civil unrest,” said Lengyel.