This past week, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan called-out Ohio National Guard troops to back-up the Baltimore Police Department and the Maryland State Police in the face of riots in Baltimore. I wonder, however, what actual roll the Guard could have played. They were sent to patrol the street, but apparently not sent near the protests.
National Guardsmen are citizen-soldiers; however, I seriously wonder how many of those deployed have completed basic (military) training, or even qualified with their rifles. Most definitely, they are not trained in police action or crowd control. Also, since they do not have police authority, they cannot arrest anyone. So, what role could they possibly play?
After I left the Army at the end of 1969, I enrolled at the Ohio State University, the following January, to complete my undergraduate degree. On May 4, 1970 (45 years ago this coming Monday), the Ohio National Guard had similarly been called-out to back-up the police and the Highway Patrol at Kent State University, near Cleveland, Ohio. They were deployed to help quell campus protests, which were held against the expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia. The next day, National Guardsmen fired 67 shots into a crowd of protesters, killing four students and wounding nine. Some of the unarmed casualties were merely passing by, including one ROTC student..
The next day, Governor James Rhodes deployed National Guard troops to the much larger Ohio State University, in Columbus, to nip any anti-war protests there in the bud. There hadn’t been any protests, however–either before or after Kent State. When the Guard arrived, anyone entering or leaving campus had to show a university ID, at various Guard check-points. Oftentimes, I would chat with them for a couple of minutes.
In the discussions, I probably asked a random sample of maybe seven-or-eight “soldiers” if they had been to basic training, or even fired their rifles on a gun range. None had done either. And when the Guards were deployed to the front of the Administration Building–the normal focus for such protests–the tactics used were unbelievably wrong, and even laughable. Last year, when I read a summary of the trial proceedings for the Guardsmen who were indicted in the killings, the description of the Guard actions seemed quite similar to what I had witnessed, in Columbus. It was the same untrained and undisciplined, led by the incompetent.
The National Guard today is a different force. In the 1970s, it never deployed overseas, but, only within their respective home states to help after natural catastrophes. Some Guard units today, however, have been deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq. But a military force composed of citizens would naturally be fluid. Experienced men or women might leave, either due to family or career changes. And new recruits would be added as they signed-up. So, individual Guard units are usually in somewhat of a flux.
When a Governor calls-out the Guard, he or she has no idea as to exactly who or what they are deploying. Also, chances are that the Guard (adjutant) general who appears with the Governor at the press conference doesn’t know the specifics of the individual unit(s) either, since he or she is removed from the small units due to several layers of command. And, the Mayor and Police Chief are equally in the dark. Now, I am making some generalizations here; however, we are talking about bureaucracy. This means that an unknown entity, with questionable capabilities, is given rifles and sent out into the city.
Going back to my original question: do we really want to have a military force patrolling our streets, where the capabilities are limited as to what they can actually do? Also, in Ferguson, Mo, last summer, a widely-held complaint was that the police department was dressed and equipped like a small army. That reduces the ability of the police to relate with the citizens whom they are sworn to protect. So, why add more military hardware to the situation, by deploying the Guard? Instead, call-in other police units from within Maryland or, as we saw this past week, from nearby states.