- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 19, 2020

The general who heads the National Guard has come out against putting National Guard troops under federal control and said state governments are in a better position to decide how to deploy them in the fight against the growing coronavirus pandemic.

“That would not make sense in this situation,” Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told reporters Thursday at the Pentagon. “The National Guard is uniquely qualified and postured to act under the command and control of the governors. If you were to federalize them, you’ve lost that ability.”

Governors in 27 states have activated some elements of the Army and Air National Guard troops under their control, but some have argued a more centralized, coordinated approach is needed.

“As states need the National Guard to react to this pandemic, governors have the authority to bring them on active duty as there are tasks and purposes for them to be used,” said Gen. Lengyel, also a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“It makes much more sense to leave them [under state control] so they can be mobilized as they are needed, one piece at a time,” Gen. Lengyel said.



About 2,000 National Guardsmen have already been deployed. That figure is likely to double over the weekend and could rise to “tens of thousands” as the pandemic spreads, he said.

The missions being carried out by the Guard troops vary. In New York, they are delivering food for quarantined residents of hard-hit New Rochelle, while Guardsmen in south Florida are collecting samples from coronavirus testing sites in Broward County. The Tennessee Air Guard recently flew in 500 thousand swabs for coronavirus test kits from Italy to Memphis, Tennessee.

“Every state has a different way to deal with disasters,” Gen. Lengyel said.

He called the campaign against the coronavirus “a historic event, unlike any we have faced in recent years.” He compared it to disaster relief, a classic mission of the National Guard.

“When there’s a hurricane, you can see it on a map. You have a sense of how hard the storm will hit and how long the storm will last,” he said. “With COVID-19, it’s like we have 54 separate hurricanes in every state, territory and the District of Columbia. Unlike a hurricane, we don’t know when it’s going to dissipate and head out to sea.”

The National Guard also could be used to augment local police departments and help keep order. But that’s only if they remain under state control. National Guard troops were used in a state-sanctioned law enforcement role in New Orleans in 2005 following Hurricane Katrina.

Under the Posse Comitatus Act, the federal government is not allowed to use military troops for domestic law enforcement missions.

There are no plans to place the National Guard troops under federal control, Pentagon officials said later Thursday.

He said it simply makes for a much more efficient system to leave command of the National Guard troops at the state level.

“They still have all the structure, all the equipment [and] all the people. The governor can access every single component of the system,” Gen. Lengyel said.

Federalizing National Guard troops only really makes sense for a situation like World War II when a country needs to rapidly expand an Army in a short amount of time, he said.

“If we were to go to war with a major peer competitor, then the National Guard would all be part of the United States Army,” he said.

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