Lawmakers Fume After National Guard Troops Booted from Capitol to Sleep in Garage
Officials said Friday that members of the Guard had been relocated back to the Capitol from the garage
Lawmakers fumed at the news this week that the National Guard — brought in to protect federal buildings in the wake of the deadly insurrection at U.S. Capitol earlier this month — had to sleep in a parking garage once the inaugural ceremonies had ended.
Photos of the troops circulated widely on social media and drew quick rebuke from members of Congress and other politicians.
"They did an outstanding job serving our nation's capital in a time of strife and should be graciously praised, not subject to substandard conditions," New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu tweeted Friday while announcing he had recalled the state's force.
Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly wrote on Twitter that the situation was "unacceptable and must be fixed."
By Friday morning, officials said the Guard had been moved from the garage, according to The New York Times.
"As of this morning, all Guardsmen and women have been relocated to space within the Capitol Complex," the acting chief of the Capitol Police said Friday, the Times reported. "The Department is also working with the Guard to reduce the need for sleeping accommodations by establishing shorter shifts, and will ensure they have access to the comfortable accommodations they absolutely deserve when the need arises."
While troops in the Capitol earlier this month have been sleeping on the floor there as well, a guardsman told CNN they also had access to the visitor center.
The Washington Post reports that, according to two soldiers, hundreds of National Guard members were originally "forced out of a U.S. Capitol cafeteria resting area and into a parking garage nearby, putting them in close quarters with moving cars, exhaust fumes and troops potentially infected with the coronavirus."
"The abrupt transfer came Thursday afternoon with no explanation," the Post reported.
According to the Times, also citing two members of the Guard, they did not have enough power or heat when they were relocated and, one soldier said, about 1,000 of them were sharing one portable bathroom.
Similar reports came to light Thursday, as images of the troops formerly stationed within the Capitol showed them sleeping on concrete floors and in tight quarters.
The Post noted that while members of the Guard are given hotel rooms, the nature of their shifts make those lodgings difficult to use "so they nap wherever they can."
Wayne Hall, a National Guard spokesman, explained to PEOPLE that an active guard force is made up of multiple shifts, with guardsmen typically working in 24-hour shifts.
While they are provided accommodations to use when they're not working, during that 24-hour period it is important they stay nearby — hence the practice of taking naps on floors.
"When they're not on shift, they still have to be in the area," Hall says. "They can't go back to their accommodations … They still need to be on hand in case they need to react or respond, should the whole guard force need to be responsive to a threat."
Some Republican lawmakers were quick to blame Democrats for the situation, though others pointed out that the reason the National Guard was brought to the area in the first place was because of the Capitol attack by a mob of Trump supporters.
Approximately 25,000 National Guard troops from around the country were called to Washington, D.C., to help law enforcement with enhanced security for the inaugural ceremonies for President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
"Yesterday dozens of senators and congressmen walked down our lines taking photos, shaking our hands and thanking us for our service," one guardsman told Politico. "Within 24 hours, they had no further use for us and banished us to the corner of a parking garage. We feel incredibly betrayed."
"I've never in my entire career felt like I've been booted onto the curb and told, 'Figure it out on your own,' " another told the Post.
Others, however, said that sleeping on floors or in uncomfortable areas is standard for members of the Guard, particularly in instances when there are tens of thousands of them in one area.