March 3, 2021

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‘This is absurd’: Scores of National Guard members banished to Senate parking garage, soldiers say – The Washington Post

3 min read

The Guard members have hotel rooms to sleep in, officials said. But soldiers are on duty for a day or two, working shifts a few hours at a time and cannot easily return to their hotels, many of which are in Virginia and Maryland. So they nap wherever they can — on concrete, indoor tennis courts, or if they are lucky, on carpet floors.

Capitol Police moved the Guard members off the grounds, officials said, as foot traffic from lawmakers and other officials increased in the area.

Two soldiers who spoke to The Post estimated hundreds of troops were moved to the garage as officials struggle to find places to put thousands still in Washington. More than 25,000 National Guard members arrived after the Jan 6. Capitol riot to help secure Wednesday’s presidential inauguration, and many have already departed.

The two soldiers, noncommissioned officers in the Maryland National Guard, said troops inhaled exhaust fumes, shared few toilets with hundreds of soldiers and struggled to sleep under the harsh fluorescent lights.

“I’ve never in my entire career felt like I’ve been booted onto the curb and told, ‘Figure it out on your own,’ ” said one of the soldiers, who said he served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak with reporters.

“This is absurd,” said the other soldier, who said one of his men was nearly struck by a car.

Lawmakers, in response to news stories from Politico and other news outlets, channeled outrage on Twitter. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.), an Army veteran who served in Iraq, said Thursday night the Guard members were sent back to the Capitol complex. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), also an Army veteran who served in Iraq, said Capitol Police officers apologized to the troops.

Both soldiers said austere quarters are realities of the profession. But these conditions, they said, unnecessarily hamstring their duties. Their spaces have few electrical outlets to charge smartphones, they said, which are used for mission planning and to keep in contact with one another.

“As Congress is in session and increased foot traffic and business is being conducted, U.S. Capitol Police asked the troops to move their rest area outside of the Capitol. They were temporarily relocated to the Thurgood Marshall Judicial Center garage with heat and restroom facilities,” said Capt. Edwin Nieves Jr., a D.C. National Guard spokesman.

One portable toilet used by soldiers was overflowing onto the sidewalk, a photo obtained by The Post shows.

Both Maryland soldiers said the coronavirus is raging among National Guard members. One said he personally knows several soldiers who have been infected.

The soldier laughed when asked by a reporter to describe the protocols in place to mitigate the spread of the virus.

“There’s none,” he said. “We are on top of each other all day, every day. We’ve given up.”

Nieves did not immediately return a request for comment about coronavirus protocols.

Some Guard members said the conditions were not as bad as suggested on social media. One member from the Wisconsin National Guard said they have rested in the garage between their shifts for days. It is uncomfortable, but there are not many places to easily put thousands of soldiers in the District, he said.

Some lawmakers offered their offices in the wake of viral photos of Guard members on concrete floors.

“Yeah this is not okay,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted. “My office is free this week to any service members who’d like to use it for a break or take nap on the couch. We’ll stock up on snacks for you all too.”

But one of the soldiers said he doubted the motivations of politicians eager to score public relations wins, noting that lawmakers were happy to take photos of themselves delivering pizza after photos of sleeping soldiers in the Capitol went viral.

“Now I feel like a wet paper towel,” he said. “You wiped me down and threw me away.”

Dan Lamothe contributed to this report.

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