The National Guard is being federalized — but not to enforce quarantines

Elizabeth Howe
March 23, 2020 - 12:13 pm


President Donald Trump announced Sunday the National Guards for California, New York, and Washington would be federalized under Title 32 — but control of these Guardsmen would remain with the governors. The chief of the National Guard Bureau was clear that they will not be used to enforce shelter-in-place or quarantine measures. 

National Guards across the country step in to help fight COVID-19

Essentially, the only thing that changed within the National Guard's response to COVID-19 with Trump's announcement is funding. Under Title 32, funding for the activation of National Guard troops in these states is covered by the federal government rather than the state. Command control for these Guardsmen, however, remains with state governors. 

"Through FEMA, the federal government will be funding 100 percent of the cost of deploying National Guard units to carry out approved missions to stop the virus while those governors remain in command," Trump said during a press briefing on Sunday.

This is an important clarification as concerns were raised last week regarding the drawbacks of federalizing National Guard personnel. 

National Guard Chief predicts tens of thousands will be activated

"That would not make sense in this situation," Chief of the National Guard Bureau Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel said in a Pentagon press briefing on Thursday. "The best use of the National Guard is to use the National Guard for the unique authorities that it has, and that is to remain under the command and control of the networks in the states."

To federalize National Guard troops, Lengyel explained in the briefing, would remove them from the states where they already reside — ready and well-equipped to support the fight against COVID-19. He also explained that under Title 32, National Guard personnel could not be used for law enforcement. 

"For instance, a unique attribute of the National Guard is we can operate as a law enforcement capacity to assist state and local law enforcement inside the states," Lengyel said. "And if you were to federalize the National Guard, then you would lose that ability to do that."

Which raised the question — is utilizing National Guard personnel in a law enforcement capacity being considered? 

As of last Thursday's briefing, Lengyel said no. But he also said there were no plans to federalize National Guard personnel at that time either. 

Now that National Guard personnel have been federalized, Lengyel reiterated again via Twitter that these troops would not be used to enforce quarantine or shelter-in-place measures. 

"The National Guard is in this for the long haul," Lengyel said. "It’s as though we had a hurricane in every state and territory at the same time. This historic event is being met with a historic response by the National Guard and the local, state and federal partners we support."

Roughly 7,300 National Guard members are currently deployed across all 50 states in COVID-19 response capacities. 

As of Monday morning, the Department of Defense reported 243 confirmed COVID-19 cases which include 133 active duty service members. A DoD contractor died from coronavirus over the weekend marking the DoD's first death.

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