By ASHRAF KHALIL – Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Dressed in full fatigues, Sgt. Michael Ray Forbes stayed on 14th Street, a bustling and deeply gentrified strip of downtown Washington dotted with restaurants and clubs.
He approached Phillip Wallace, a 26-year-old in ripped jeans munching on a donut, chatted with him a bit, exchanged phone numbers, and handed him a brochure about joining the National Guard of the District of Columbia.
“Now I’m not going to burn your phone to bother you about this,” Forbes said as they parted ways. “But you have my number and you know where to find me if you’re interested.”
Wallace replied, “Yes, of course, definitely.” But he didn’t seem to be paying his full attention to it.
The interaction, brief and hesitant as it is, represents a new era for the DC Custody – a quietly critical force that has often found itself at the center of intense political debate, most recently over the Collapse security history on January 6, 2021.
It took about three hours for members of the DC Guard to respond to the Capitol during the insurgency by then-President Donald Trump’s supporters, a delay local officials blame on their lack of authority to deploy the Guard. . The whole issue has become tied to Washington’s continued quest for statehood.
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For more than a decade, DC’s Guard Offices have been a semi-hidden presence — sheltered inside the DC Armory behind security checkpoints in an area of southeastern Washington with nearly foot traffic. draw next to the abandoned carcass of the RFK stadium.
But in March, the Local Guard opened its first real recruiting office in the city since 2010. Commander Major General Sherrie McCandless describes the move as a further boost in visibility and an emphasis on the local relations of the guard at a time when many residents might be ripe for recruitment.
“It’s really a walking town and it’s really a town of oral tradition,” said McCandless, a former F-16 pilot. “We are coming out of the pandemic. People are more mobile again and frankly a lot of people are trying to figure out what’s next.
Recruiting chief Lt. Col. Amber Ellison says the selling point to potential recruits is that the guard offers many of the same benefits as full-time serving military – discipline, education, lasting relationships and training in highly marketable skills – for a fraction of the commitment.
They seek to recruit a specific segment of the population – 17-35 year olds who see the appeal of a partial military commitment.
“You can serve your country while keeping your civilian job,” said recruiter Sgt. Jessica Jones, an officer with the Metropolitan Police Department.
Guardsmen are expected to dedicate one weekend per month, plus a two-week training stint each summer, with a commitment of six years plus two inactive years. For this, the entry-level pay rate starts at around $230 per month, plus a myriad of bonuses and upgrades based on experience, education, and specialization.
“You don’t have to move,” Ellison said. “You don’t have to quit your job. You don’t have to quit college. They will serve the city they live in and protect the nation’s capital.
So far, spontaneous visits to the new storefront are still rare, and recruiters like Forbes and Jones make most of their contacts at high school and college career fairs or at booths at major public events. But they say that for those intrigued by the original proposal, the new storefront is a great and accessible place to schedule a follow-up pitch appointment.
“I’m just telling them my own story and exactly what I learned and how I benefited from it,” Forbes said. “Once they know what it is, it sells.”
And the renewed visibility gives them a chance to answer basic questions from curious newbies.
“I hear the ‘Am I going to war?’ a lot of questions,” Jones said. “And women ask if they will have to shave their heads.”
DC’s contingent of 2,200 guards are regularly deployed in a supporting role – traffic control and security around subway stations – at multiple DC-specific events like the State of the Union Address. It also plays a key role in the air defense of the nation’s capital, with its own squad of 20 F-16s at Andrews Air Force Base. And DC’s guard pilots carry congressional delegations on trips abroad.
In recent years, custody has become an emotionally charged topic as a symbol of a DC’s entrenched status as less than a state.
Mayor Muriel Bowser, DC’s top local elected official, must submit Guard deployment requests to the Secretary of the Army. The mayor says she operates as de facto governor, but is denied governor-specific authorities like control of the National Guard. Meanwhile, the mere presence of the federal government makes the district a much more likely location for civil unrest that could warrant the deployment of the National Guard.
One such disruption, the January 6, 2021 riot, when Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building, served as a real-time example of these limitations. Bowser warned days in advance of the potential for violence. And when it became clear that the United States Capitol police were overwhelmed by the crowd, Bowser couldn’t immediately deploy the DC guard. Instead, crucial time was lost while the request was considered inside the Pentagon, and protesters ransacked the building.
The issue had also erupted months earlier, in the summer of 2020, when violent protests against police brutality and systemic racism erupted in Washington and other cities. Trump accused Bowser of losing control of the capital and flooded Washington with a massive wave of federal guards and agents.
Asked about the importance of the DC Guard’s new visibility push, Bowser said dryly, “It would be more important if they worked for the city’s GM.”
She added: “But we have a great relationship with the commanders.”
For people in uniform, the debate about their chain of command is irrelevant. McCandless said whether she takes orders from a governor, the secretary of the Army or the mayor, the mission is the same.
“All of my peers who work for governors have pretty much the same experience as me,” she said.
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