President Trump calls on the National Guard to help fight COVID-19
Wednesday, March 25, 2020
By the end of the day on March 24, 2020, the unprecedented novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic had claimed more than 18,200 lives around the globe. Approximately 52,900 people in the U.S. had tested positive for the virus.
On that same day, 163 people in the U.S. died, making it the deadliest day since the pandemic reached this country, bringing the total of COVID-19 deaths in the United States to 704. Every day, hundreds more are infected. Every day, the death toll increases.
People in all 50 states; Washington, D.C.; and the territories of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have tested positive for COVID-19. All the individual governments have declared a state of emergency, and all have mobilized some components of their respective Army and Air National Guard in order to assist in dealing with this crisis.
A few days ago, President Trump activated the National Guard in California, Washington, and New York, the three states that have the most documented cases of the virus. They are the states that are the most overwhelmed in dealing with this pandemic and in need of help.
These states have insufficient supplies and equipment. They do not have enough hospital beds or adequate numbers of medical personnel. Some people have expressed fear that calling out the Guard means martial law is coming. That is not what is happening. The president is only responding to governors’ requests that he send them help they need when dealing with this crisis.
What Calling on the National Guard for These Three States Means
When the state deploys its National Guard, the state pays all the costs. The soldiers report to their governor as their commander in chief. There are different ramifications when the president deploys National Guard soldiers depending on the federal law under which the guard is called up.
In the current situation, the president ordered the National Guard troops to operate under a federal law, Title 32, that still recognizes the governor as the commander in chief, but the troops will be paid by the federal government. Generally, under this statute the federal government pays 75% of the cost of the guard and the state pays 25%. Since this is such a major crisis, the federal government will pay 100% of the cost.
Air Force Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, stated in an interview conducted shortly after the president’s announcement that mobilizing the troops under Title 32 authority benefits both state governments and the troops.
It benefits the National Guard troops in that they will receive the same benefits as active-duty troops. This includes points toward their retirement and full GI Bill benefits as well as Tricare health insurance.
In addition to benefiting the states by the federal government absorbing the costs, according to Lengyel, it also benefits the states because “governors and adjutant generals know the best use of what’s needed in their states. This will help with unity of effort and speed of responses.”
Lengyel wants to dispel any fear that the Guard will be used to enforce martial law or quarantine. He made it clear that while the guard may be used to assist law enforcement efforts as they do routinely during other national disasters, “they will not be used to take any military action to enforce shelter in place or quarantines.”
Whether Guard troops will be used to enforce curfews is up to the governors. As Lengyel noted, “Anything that the law enforcement capacity normally does, they could be augmented with National Guard.”
Lengyel also made it clear that any suggestions that Guard troops were forcing people into their homes instead of providing medical aid and food supplies were “unfounded rumors.” He emphasized that what the Guard is doing “is providing medical testing, assessment, facilities, ground transportation, logistics, command-and-control, planners, liaison officers, and we will continue to adapt as this unfolds.”
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