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Posted at 6:56 PM ET, 02/ 4/2011

The dangers of D.C.'s commuter National Guard

By Steve Trynosky. Washington

During the chaotic commute of Jan. 26, major thoroughfares throughout the District became paralyzed with anxious commuters trying to get home. According to several reports, it took as long as five hours for some commuters merely to make the trip along 16th Street NW from downtown to Silver Spring. If it had been called in, the D.C. National Guard could have provided trained personnel to assist with keeping traffic moving and helping citizens in distress. Unfortunately, D.C.’s National Guard force is primarily comprised of non-District residents, and many of these citizen-soldiers and airmen would have been unable to respond even if they had been called into service.

According to 2008 statistics compiled by the National Guard Association of D.C., D.C. residents make up only around 20 percent of the D.C. Army National Guard and a mere 4 percent of the D.C. Air National Guard. Last week’s storm should serve as a wake-up call for local leaders and demonstrate the inherent risk in having such a small percentage of the D.C. Guard’s manpower physically located in the city during an emergency.

Many emergencies occur without notice. Is it reasonable to assume that the nearly 87 percent of D.C. Guard members who live outside the District could safely report for duty in a timely manner if needed?

As an Army Reserve officer and a D.C. resident, it appears to me that the D.C. National Guard has been AWOL from much of the civic life of the District it serves. I watch for signs of its presence, and other than the 2009 presidential inauguration and a lone Humvee I spotted on 18th Street NW during last year’s “snowmageddon,” I have never seen the D.C. Guard out and about in the community, nor have I encountered a public outreach or recruiting event. The D.C. Guard was nowhere to be seen at last year’s Adams Morgan Day, Columbia Heights Day or Mount Pleasant Day community festivals (I looked). Despite the District having every type of banquet venue imaginable, the D.C. Guard even held its 2010 military ball in Greenbelt. What a missed opportunity for Guard leadership to showcase its “Capital Guardians” in their finery to the citizens they serve.

If nothing else, the disastrous Jan. 26 commute demonstrates the very real risk of outsourcing the rewards and challenges of National Guard service to the citizens of surrounding states. The D.C. Guard must embrace the community it serves and conduct meaningful outreach and, yes, appropriate recruiting efforts to all populations and neighborhoods within the District. It is in everyone’s interest to have a cadre of trained, local responders to augment D.C. government agencies in a time of emergency.

The writer is a captain in the Army Reserve.

By Steve Trynosky. Washington  | February 4, 2011; 6:56 PM ET
Categories:  D.C., weather  
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As a practical matter, is there much difference between a DC Guard member living in the DC suburbs and a VA Guard member living in the Richmond suburbs? Seems like living within an X-mile radius of the base is more important than a line on a map.

Still, I agree 100% that their military ball should have been in DC, and that community outreach at festivals would be a good thing.

Posted by: Booyah5000 | February 5, 2011 3:17 AM | Report abuse

Another good reason to cede the residential and business portions of D.C. back to the adjoining states.

Another option is to establish a C.E.R.T. organization within D.C.

Don't wait for the National Guard to be called local C.E.R.T. members.

Posted by: knjincvc | February 5, 2011 10:55 AM | Report abuse

Agree with Booyah. Also, say an emergency is at 16th St. near the border with Silver Spring, MD. Someone living a few blocks away in Silver Spring would be able to get there faster than someone living in the Palisades or Southeast.

Posted by: DOEJN | February 5, 2011 2:13 PM | Report abuse

I remember how the Guard was called out to "direct traffic" in the days right after the World Trade Center was destroyed. It was a joke. It devolved into a bunch of Guardsmen standing on corners while the usual brain-dead Beltway commuters gridlocked every intersection.

Somehow, miraculously, the Guard would do better in an "emergency" (read, "inconvenience") that lasted less than 18 hours?!?!

Posted by: SGlover910 | February 5, 2011 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like someone can't get promoted and wants to open up some slots by imposing a residency requirement.

Posted by: carlmi3 | February 6, 2011 10:01 AM | Report abuse

knjincvc: How is calling in a bunch of Software Engineers going to help with directing traffic?

Posted by: stuckman | February 6, 2011 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Excellent column. I don't understand why there isn't a residency requirement for joining the D.C. National Guard -- or at least a reasonable limit on the percentage of non-resident members who will be accepted to the ranks.

Since the president, rather than D.C.'s mayor, commands the D.C. National Guard, do we need to turn to Obama to order a change?

Exactly HOW do we as D.C. residents get changes made??

Posted by: Kathy8 | February 6, 2011 12:07 PM | Report abuse

I haven't noticed the DC National Guard recruiting in DC. Seems that with the unemployment in many wards, it would be a great opportunity for a lot of good men and women.

BTW, the National Guard was at the H Street Festival. The Armory is in Ward 6 and the H Street Festival truly represents its community - including the Guard. Hope they come back again for the 2010 Festival.
Maybe the author will be there too. It would be a great recruiting venue.

Posted by: parkbench | February 6, 2011 3:48 PM | Report abuse

A low shot and the fact that the writer comes from the Reserves disappoints me all the more.

I have seen the DCNG “present and accounted for” at all kinds of crisis, events and needs in the District of Columbia, especially on the tragic events of 9-11.

To generate this kind of observation/criticism is unfair and out of touch with how much the DCNG has done, does and continues to do for the community.

Posted by: BrerRabbit | February 7, 2011 10:39 AM | Report abuse

DCNG provided security for that Nuclear Summit that was at the Convention center last year, and they accidentally killed a cyclist with a dump trunk...

To their credit they did provide a lot of good help during the snowstorms last season.

Posted by: saverymoore | February 7, 2011 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Trynosky has an impressive resumé but apparently research isn't one of his skills. The DC National Guard is NOT an arm of the City of Washington and never has been. The Mayor and City Council have no say in the mobilization or employment of DCNG. In fact, the "Commander in Chief" of the DCNG is the President of the United States (although the authority to employ DCNG has been delegated to the Secretary of the Army). So, had there been a need for DCNG during the recent snow emergency, the Mayor could have made a request for assistance, however, all City resources would have had to be employed before that request could be honored.

All that being said, DCNG has a long and proud history of providing emergency assistance to the City such as during the Air Florida disaster in 1982, 9/11 and many others. I wonder if he knows that DCNG's history(then the Militia of course) goes back to the Revolutionary War, that Francis Scott Key was on military orders from the Militia when he wrote the Star Spangled Banner, that it was the first organization mobilized for both the Civil War and the Spanish-American War, that when mobilized for WWI, the black units were the only ones trusted to guard vital facilities around in DC, that a DCNG unit (the 121st Engineers) was in the first wave at Omaha Beach on D-Day, that DCNG anti-aircraft units manned all the gun and later missile batteries around Washington well into the 1950s, and that DCNG Air Guard pilots were the first in the air on 9/11?

As one of the other comments notes, Captain Trynosky may be looking for a Major's billet in DCNG. He really doesn't need one to transfer in from the USAR, but such a residency requirement isn't going to find an awful lot of those pilots or other specialists living in the City.

Regardless, if he wants to rant about that storm, why doesn't he ask why people just didn't stay were they were until the roads got cleared. When I worked in the District I got "trapped" twice by afternoon ice storms. I stayed at my office, then went out for dinner in Georgetown, and about 10 PM, when all the cars had finally stopped slipping and sliding and the roads were reasonably clear, my car poolie and I drove home to Vienna, VA. Oh, did I mention I'm a retired Army officer who spent 17 years in the DCNG?

Posted by: BMike1 | February 7, 2011 4:27 PM | Report abuse

The gentleman, Steve Trynosky while somewhat misguided in his analysis has missed a few critical concepts. The DCNG was the first National Guard in the country to be mobilized after 9/11. In addition to the comments by BMike1, the DCNG has mobilized soldiers to every military conflict and continously does so. The DCNG does a tremendous amount of recruiting and community outreach within the Nations Capital and in most wards of the city to include Ward 1, in Adams Morgan. While the Military Ball was held in Maryland, that in no way demonstates a lack of support for the citizens of Washington DC. While Mr. Trynosky did not reveal what military organization he was assigned to, I'm comfortable that Mr. Trynosky did not learn this behavior in any military training that he has received.

Posted by: m109rRider | February 8, 2011 1:28 PM | Report abuse

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