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1,300 NY National Guard Members In Washington For Inauguration

Roughly 1,300 soldiers and airmen of the New York National Guard are among the thousands of troops providing security for Wednesday’s presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C. The show of force follows the violent storming of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump on January 6. And it comes as the New York Army and Air National Guard units – which have 16,000 members – help operate COVID-19 vaccination and testing sites across the state.

WAMC's Jim Levulis spoke with Colonel Richard Goldenberg, public affairs officer for the New York National Guard, about the mission in Washington.

Goldenberg: Every four years the inaugural occurs in our nation's capital and members of the National Guard are accustomed to providing the type of security support. What we're seeing in 2021, is that support has been elevated to an unprecedented level. So the types of tasks that we ask of our soldiers and airmen isn't very different from, say, in 2016, or 2012, or 2008. It's just the sheer volume of members out there performing these duties in support of law enforcement. So it's traffic control checkpoints, its security checkpoints, it's ensuring the safe flow of people in and out of the capital.

Levulis: How long will members of the New York National Guard be in D.C.?

Goldenberg: Well, they've been down there for just about a week now and the inaugural, scheduled for Wednesday, the 20th, is the highlight of their time and all things considered, with a successful transfer of power to the new president, we would expect our members to be released as rapidly as possible. But of course, contingencies do allow for us to remain in place should the nation's D.C. Guard and law enforcement agencies need us.

Levulis: Are the soldiers and airmen of the New York National Guard and the Air Guard armed?

Goldenberg: They are. Members of the military components, the multiple numbers of states providing upwards of 20,000 members in support of law enforcement do have weapons and are prepared to meet any contingency.

Levulis: Is that portion of being armed, is that typical for an inauguration or a similar event if you can think of one that's similar to it?

Goldenberg: That is not typical, as most New Yorkers and most in your listening area would be accustomed to, you know, seeing your National Guard out on a street corner following a disaster or for a significant event is not an uncommon sight for most New Yorkers or most Americans. But in light of the events of January 6, and in light of the threat precautions that our nation's capital is taking for this week, we want to make sure that our members are in fact prepared to meet any possibility and are working strictly in support of law enforcement and the Department of Justice to ensure that their desires for a robust security capability are available to them.

Levulis. And I wanted to get to the scope of this operation. Colonel, you've served more than 30 years in the Army and the Army National Guard, including deployments to Iraq, Egypt, Israel, as well as responding to disasters, including Ground Zero in New York City after September 11. As you mentioned, there are more than 20,000 National Guard troops from across the country in Washington, D.C. to provide security for this inauguration. Have you personally seen anything like this in your military career?

Goldenberg: Well, you know I'd like to say that each time you see something that's unique and unprecedented, it's the one time you've ever seen it. And then a couple years later, we tend to outdo ourselves. So whether it's the response of the New York National Guard at 9/11 in New York City, or Superstorm Sandy across the New York City, Long Island and Hudson Valley regions, or whether it was the ice storm, if you want to go even further back into the 1990s. You know, every time we put National Guard forces out there into the community, it is in response to a dramatic need for their support. And New Yorkers and Americans understand when the National Guard is out there on a street corner that's their neighbors helping their neighbors. So is this unprecedented for our nation's capital and an inaugural event? Yeah, most likely, it's probably one of the largest things that we've done. But is it important to do? And is it part of the historic transfer of power from one executive office to another? Yes, it is. And it's important that we're there to do our part.

Levulis: Now current members of the military and military veterans have been charged for taking part in the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6. Is the New York National Guard aware of any current or former members who took part?

Goldenberg: We are not. And of course, the one thing that you always want to remember is that as a military force representing New Yorkers, we are a slice of our own society. So there's a wide degree of political perspectives and lifestyles and viewpoints all across our force, and we respect each and everyone's individual right to have that opinion. But when it comes to performing our missions, that's where we draw the line. So we are ensuring that every one of our members who are arriving in D.C. are receiving briefings about the effective use of their forces and to ensure that all of our members comport with the desires to live up to mission first, people always. So the National Guard forces from across the states will be there in place, regardless of how an individual might feel, as an organization, we've got a job to do.

Levulis: In addition to the inauguration, the Guard is also helping to run COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites now across New York and has been for months. Is the Guard stretched thin?

Goldenberg: No, this is one of those unique aspects that, you know, as a community-based force, we've got a significant amount of depth across our Army and Air National Guard units across the state of New York to carry the load of whatever requirements locals need of us. So even as we have 1,300 members in and around the D.C. area, and we look forward to welcoming them back home later on, after the inaugural events. We are continuing to provide that level of support at local levels, whether it's the Javits vaccine site in New York City, or the multiple testing sites that we still provide support through for drive-through testing across the state, the support to medical warehousing. Whatever local agencies need of us, the state has helped provide National Guard forces to be there in support. And we'll continue to do that as the number of vaccine sites are opened up across the state, you may very well see a uniform member of the National Guard there helping guide you as you form a line to come in for that vaccine.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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