WASHINGTON, D.C. –
Approximately 200 Utah Army National Guard Soldiers returned home to Salt Lake City, Utah, June 7, 2020 after volunteering to support civil authorities in Washington, D.C. after four days of domestic unrest.
Members of the 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Utah National Guard, were activated on a volunteer basis and deployed to D.C. with only five hours of notice to provide security assistance to federal police, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department and the United States Park Police. Specifically, the objective was to ensure the protection of life and property, while balancing the right to peacefully protest.
“At times the U.S. military is asked, in support of governors and law enforcement, to maintain law and order so that other Americans can exercise their rights, free from violence against themselves and their property,” said Defense Secretary, Mark T. Esper. “That is what thousands of Guardsmen are doing today in cities across America. It’s not something we seek to do, but it’s our duty, and we do it with the utmost skill and professionalism.”
The 19th SFG (A), has remained for years the most consistently deployed unit in not only the Utah National Guard but also the nation, however, the condensed timeframe of their D.C. deployment undoubtedly brought about a new set of challenges and some lessons learned along the way.
“We learned two big lessons: One, that we can mobilize the National Guard a lot faster than we thought; we were able to get the first group out the door in about five hours, and that is unprecedented,” said Col. Paul Peters, 19th SFG (A) commander. “The other lesson, is you never know what you’re going to be called up to do.”
Soldier readiness and flexibility are some of the hallmarks of serving in the 19th SFG (A), and something that the Soldiers certainly brought to the D.C. mission.
“Morale was high, and our Soldiers wanted to be there,” said Command. Sgt. Maj. Jason Legler, senior enlisted advisor, 19th SFG (A). “In fact, I had to turn some volunteers away because we had a limit on how many folks we could send out.”
Domestic missions are widely viewed as some of the most difficult tasks National Guard Soldiers will ever do in their careers. The uniqueness and difficulty of the D.C. mission required that all Soldiers bring an important skill set to the table to ensure the safety and security of the demonstrators so that United States citizens can continue to enjoy freedom of expression.
“Domestic response is probably one of our most difficult missions because you’re trying to take care of people, not subdue them,” said Capt. William Sullivan, detachment commander, 19th SFG (A). “I learned a lot about patience and empathy and love, and just letting the protesters do what they need to do to exercise their First Amendment rights.”
Despite the difficulty of the mission, Utah Soldiers were able to contribute to their nation in other and unexpected ways. Immediately following their night shift, Soldiers saw an opportunity to help clean up the area. They started clearing debris and garbage that had been thrown at them the night before, and painted over graffiti where protesters had defaced public property.
“We just saw an opportunity to clean the area up and to help get the city back to normal,” said Sgt. Gilberto Reynosa, CBRN specialist, 19th SFG (A). “It’s part of our values and who we are as people.”
Each and every Soldier brought something unique through either their military profession or life experience. Though the unit is, by name, a “Special Forces Group,” most of the men and women that participated were not in fact “Special Forces” qualified Soldiers, but rather Soldiers with various support and logistics positions assigned to the 19th SFG (A).
“This was a difficult job and they were put right in the meat of it, and I think they used all of their skills as professionals,” said Brig. Gen. Michel J. Turley, adjutant general, Utah National Guard. “Our Soldiers were able to display a professional demeanor and treat our fellow citizens with dignity and respect. I’m very proud of them.”
Follow the training and progress of the Utah National Guard on its website https://www.ut.ng.mil/ or view the Defense Visual Information Distribution System at https://www.dvidshub.net/unit/U-NG.