‘It’s been humbling’; Virginia National Guard members share experiences ahead of Inauguration Day

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WASHINGTON (WRIC/WFXR) — The United States of America will have a new President in the span of a few hours and security at the U.S. Capitol is tighter than ever before.

As of Tuesday, Jan. 19, more than 20,000 National Guard members have boots on the ground in Washington, D.C. to ensure a safe transition of power.

Roughly 2,400 troops from Virginia’s National Guard are protecting the nation’s Capitol, ahead of the Inauguration on Wednesday, Jan. 20.

WFXR’s sister station in Richmond spoke with three Virginia soldiers on Tuesday, who are normally based in Fredericksburg, Petersburg, and Lynchburg. Although the three are spread out across the Commonwealth, their mission is in Washington, D.C. right now. They shared with sister station WRIC that they’re humbled and honored to be there.

“It’s been humbling and a privilege to be here. We are proud of the opportunity to serve at this Inauguration. It’s a real privilege to be in the nation’s Capitol, wearing the uniform to ensure safety,” said First Lt. Cole Stevens.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam deployed troops to D.C after the U.S Capitol came under attack on Jan. 6.

Stevens, an Engineer Officer with the 229th Engineer Battalion in Fredericksburg, says he got the call 12 hours after the deadly riot and has been in D.C. ever since. He goes on to say all year he’s been helping with COVID-19 missions and the trip to D.C. was his first time crossing state lines for an assignment.

“We’ve never really seen anything like this, but this is what we train for,” said Stevens. “We are prepared for a number of different contingencies. We train for peaceful events, less peaceful events and we’re ready for really anything.”

Capt. Andrew Robinson, an Operations Officer based out of Petersburg, says it’s been a great experience to be among so many fellow guardsmen and women. He shares that it’s been nice to catch up, but troops have a job to do and they are working shifts around the clock. Robinson told WFXR’s sister station he got the call 72 hours after the insurrection.

“I couldn’t even tell you what day it is,” said Robinson. “I know I got my guys back to the hotel at 2 a.m. and we met back up at 7 a.m. So they’re long days, but everybody is working very hard.”

Images of soldiers at attention, sleeping on cots and on the floor at the U.S Capitol are circulating online.

Second Lt. Mackenzie Haley’s Lynchburg Battalion is assigned to the Capitol and she says she is learning a lot about history and security on her mission. Haley shared with WFXR’s sister station that Washington, D.C. is quite a different picture than what most are used to.

“Getting to be in the Capitol building has been such an amazing experience. The city is always super busy and high traffic, but it’s not like that right now. There’s a lot of blockades, you’re constantly seeing military personnel in vehicles and you know it’s a safe place to be.”

Although Wednesday’s final plans are still fluid, Stevens says he will be in charge of moving soldiers around and making sure they are where they need to be.

“We’re confident it’s going to be a peaceful day,” said Stevens. “We hope that we won’t see a repeat of the events that we saw on Jan. 6. We’re confident that we won’t, but we are trained and prepared for that if it occurs.”

All three members interviewed by sister station WRIC say their mission on Inauguration Day to ensure safety, provide security, and protect property will be executed.

Northam stated that Virginia troops will be in Washington, D.C. for as long as it takes to protect the Capitol and ensure peace. As of Tuesday night, guard members do not know when they will be returning back home.

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