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DC Guard helps make way for protesters, First Amendment

By Kevin Valentine | District of Columbia National Guard | June 9, 2020

WASHINGTON – Since May 30, members of the District of Columbia National Guard have protected subway stations and businesses near protests in response to the death of George Floyd.

As the demonstrations continue, the D.C. National Guard has seen its mission evolve.

As Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen, their immediate mission is in their communities. One such Citizen-Soldier is 1st Lt. John McGlothlin, an Army attorney with the National Guard legal support office, D.C. Army National Guard.

“I live about a 15-minute walk from here,” said McGlothlin. “It’s hard for people to get out there and express themselves if they’re worried about something bad happening – something being lit on fire or something being broken. There are a lot of people who want to come out and protest, and they’re a little unsure about whether it’s a safe thing to do. We’re trying to make sure that they feel safe enough to come out here and express their opinions.”

Soldiers and Airmen who were once armed with riot gear and weapons are now in plain uniforms with medical kits, ready to respond to medical emergencies, as was the case when a runner passed out near the Lincoln Memorial June 4 and was revived by Airmen with the 113th Wing, D.C. Air National Guard.

Members of the Guard also patrolled downtown areas and alerted local authorities to any violence, property destruction or looting. And they coordinated efforts to block off intersections with Army trucks so demonstrators could walk freely.

As the mission is being handed off to other state National Guard units, the theme of the mission is also being passed along.

Pfc. Zachary Pankow, an infantryman with B Company, 1-293rd Infantry Company, 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Indiana National Guard, understands his mission to support people who’ve decided to exercise their First Amendment rights.

“Our mission is to block off traffic,” said Pankow. “We allow cars that need to get through for work to get through, but other than that, we keep cars off the streets near where people are going to be protesting, so the protesters don’t have to worry about cars. There will be a lot of protesters out here tonight, and cars can be a real danger to the people protesting.”

The National Guard’s presence has not always been welcomed during this mission.

“Mostly, everyone here is nice and understands why we’re here,” said Pankow. “But there are some people who yell obscenities. The people who are yelling obscenities - you’ve got to take it like they’re not yelling at you; they’re yelling at the government as a whole, and we represent the government, so I just let it fly over and not impact my mission.”

McGlothlin and Pankow supported traffic control points in the Gallery Place Chinatown area downtown. They said they were generally well-received by the public and had no incidents during their shifts.

“We want everyone to know that we’re not out here because of any feelings about the protest,” McGlothlin said. “Our role is to keep people safe. The goal is for people to express themselves and their First Amendment rights.”