ARLINGTON, Va. – Members of the Ohio National Guard were activated by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine to assist local authorities after three days of civil unrest in major Ohio cities, including Columbus and Cleveland.
“We were tasked to come to Cleveland to assist local law enforcement only in a support capacity,” said Army Capt. Josh Michalski, commander of the Ohio Army National Guard’s 135th Military Police Company, adding that his unit has been primarily handling security around areas of critical infrastructure.
The Ohio Guard members were among 30,000 National Guard Soldiers and Airmen in 31 states and the District of Columbia assisting state and local authorities as violence in some cities disrupted protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“We bring such a unique skill set and when we’re here in such a support capacity, [we] do what we can to help the situation be better and deconflict as much as we can,” he said.
For Army Sgt. Baylee Rathman, who was recently promoted to a team leader, the mission has been eye-opening. She found her unique role as a Soldier and a community member a perfect fit for the mission.
“I was very excited because this is my community,” she said. “I grew up in Northern Ohio.”
Because of those connections, Rathman hopes to have a calming influence.
“I’ve gone to college out here. My friends are all here and I know that some of them were partaking in the protesting,” she said. “… and I know a lot of Cleveland cops, too, so I feel like I could be both sides of the situation. I knew that I could probably help in the best way possible.”
As she prepared for the mission and took instruction from those who were on duty during earlier periods of unrest, she said she told her Soldiers to prepare for the worst.
However, she was surprised that was not what they faced.
“Honestly, I was very surprised with how many people told me, ‘Hey, be safe, I support you.’” she said.
In addition to support from local citizens, the unit’s law enforcement counterparts have been just as encouraging, said Michalski.
“As soon as we got on ground, the Cleveland police were very supportive, and all the other agencies on ground as well have been very helpful,” he said.
That cooperation has made a complicated mission much easier, said Michalski.
“Even with everything going on and the complexities of it involved, it’s a great opportunity to serve this great state,” he said, adding he’s glad to be serving alongside the Soldiers in his unit.
“This is an opportunity for the citizens of Cleveland to see their professionalism, their compassion, and also their strong work ethic,” he said. “I don’t think they’re the best just because they are my Soldiers; I know they’re the best because of the way I’ve seen them perform in the last 36 hours.”