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National Guard Support to Civil Authorities on the Horizon

March 30, 2020

National Guard Support to Civil Authorities on the Horizon


WASHINGTON — The use of the military to support civil authorities is on the horizon as part of the COVID-19 response.

As a former member of the New York Air National Guard, I was able to learn a great deal from the New York National Guard’s many dedicated Public Affairs professionals who were involved in the 9-11 response and subsequent Iraq and Afghanistan wartime operations. I also learned just how seasoned the National Guard is at performing its mission. Often seen as a more mature force, the National Guard is comprised of people who step back from their civilian life, put on the uniform and go into often unstable, austere places to act as a stabilizing force.

While the COVID-19 crisis response evolves, it is important to understand how civil authorities call upon the military, specifically the National Guard, for support. Since the Guard’s establishment in 1636, members have responded to outbreaks of smallpox, Spanish flu, yellow fever, cholera, hoof-and-mouth disease and typhus, said Dr. Richard Clark, a historian with the National Guard Bureau.

As part of the president’s whole-of-government approach to fighting the coronavirus pandemic, the Defense Department has agreed to provide medical supplies and capabilities to the Department of Health and Human Services to help combat further infections, Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper said in a press conference March 17. However, Dr. Esper has been clear to exercise caution in using the National Guard and Reserves. Many of the first responders, nurses and doctors are part-time members of the military, and an activation could negatively impact this civilian medical capability.

With the New York National Guard supporting COVID-19 response, additional states will inherently call upon their National Guard forces to help. The National Guard has unique capabilities designed to specifically support civil authorities. For example, there are 57 Civil Support Teams (CST) in the United States, including Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia National Guard. These teams are uniquely equipped to provide support to civil authorities during a crisis situation within the National Capital Region. The District of Columbia National Guard’s 33rd CST regularly supports first responders in the NCR.

The 33rd CST is one of 57 such units in the country and is equipped with a wide range of the latest military and commercial equipment CBRN equipment. It is made up of 22 full-time Army and Air National Guard personnel who bring a wide range of military skills as well as career experience from the civilian sector. The unit is divided into six sections: command, operations, communications, administration/logistics, medical/analytical and survey.

With unique capabilities, the Guard is indeed poised to provide support to civil authorities. As of March 25, approximately 10,700 Guard members from 54 states, territories and the District of Columbia National Guard are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than enforcing quarantines or stopping travelers, those on duty have been disinfecting public spaces, distributing food, assisting with transportation and logistical support of health officials and coordinating with state and local health and emergency managers.

Guard members currently on duty are serving under state active duty – a status sourced and paid for by the state – with Guard members remaining under the control of their governor. Federal activation of the National Guard will depend on the overall whole-of-government approach to containing the COVID-19 pandemic.

This Vox article does a great job explaining how the military is employed during crisis situations as there are many laws and regulations guiding the activation process.

About the Author: Lt. Col. Brooke Davis actively is serving in the Air National Guard as a Public Affairs Officer. Commissioned in 2002 from the University of Florida ROTC, she served active duty in the U.S. Air Force. In 2008, she joined the New York Air National Guard where she deployed multiple times. In her civilian capacity, she serves as a lead consultant in strategic communications for Washington Business Dynamics, an up-and-coming fast-paced consulting firm in Washington.


Washington Business Dynamics (WBD) is a veteran-owned management consulting firm specializing in acquisition, strategic advisory, and international development. We work with our clients as partners to achieve institutional change, enhance operational performance and build sustainable processes that deliver exceptional results. From our headquarters in Washington D.C. to cities around the world, our experienced team delivers strategic insights by understanding where our clients want to go, and the best way to get there. Our mission is simple: help our clients make better decisions.

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