More than 21,000 Guard members from 50 states headed to D.C., and numbers may grow

By: - January 15, 2021 2:01 pm

Virginia National Guard Airmen assigned to the 192nd Security Forces Squadron, 192nd Mission Support Group, 192nd Wing help to secure the grounds near the U.S. Capitol, Jan. 13, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Bryan Myhr)

WASHINGTON — Wednesday’s presidential inauguration ceremony may have a scaled-down audience due to the pandemic, but the security presence on hand to ensure it goes smoothly will be supersized.

At least 21,000 National Guard men and women — from all 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia — will provide security support for the inauguration, according to the National Guard Bureau, amid fears about threats of violence following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. Some 7,250 were on hand in D.C. as of Friday.

Iowa Army and Air National Guard have deployed 265 soldiers and airmen to D.C. to “assist federal, state, and local agencies with supporting missions” for the inauguration, according to a news release. The deployment is expected to last eight days, including processing and travel.

Those soldiers and airmen typically come from across the country to assist during the massive, once-every-four-years event. But four years ago, those state-based units were asked to provide a fraction of this year’s figure, sending more than 7,500 National Guard members to assist when President Donald Trump was sworn in.

The number of National Guard members — some of whom were camped out this week inside the Capitol, the scene of the violent riot by Trump supporters — could grow further. The Associated Press reported that law enforcement leaders now believe they need at least 25,000 troops to secure President-elect Joe Biden’s swearing-in.

Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are still expected to take their oaths of office outside, on the west side of the Capitol. Traditionally, they’d be watched by tens of thousands of people filling the National Mall.

But due to COVID-19 safety concerns, members of Congress don’t have stacks of inaugural tickets to hand out for spots near the inaugural platform. Those lawmakers will be able to attend in person, with one guest each.

To get in, they’ll be navigating a security perimeter that has grown in recent days. Massive metal fences surround the Capitol complex itself, and road closures have cascaded throughout downtown D.C., requiring a huge amount of manpower. Much of the Mall is closed.

The Iowa National Guard has mobilized airmen from the 185th Air Refueling Wing based in Sioux City and the 132nd Wing in Des Moines, as well as soldiers from the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, according to a news release.

National Guard units on hand in D.C. also include:

The U.S. Capitol isn’t the only legislative location facing security threats: state capitals also are bracing for potentially violent demonstrations closer to home.

The National Guard Bureau says more than 2,125 members of the National Guard are protecting state capitol buildings and key infrastructure around the country. Another 21,650 also are helping states respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, assisting with vaccinations, testing, food bank support and other efforts.

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Laura Olson
Laura Olson

Laura covers the nation's capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom, a network of nonprofit outlets that includes Iowa Capital Dispatch. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections, and campaign finance.