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January 14, 2021

Maine National Guard will head to DC as inauguration nears

Courtesy / Maine National Guard via Facebook In June, Maine National Guard commanders and soldiers were onsite at Russell Park Rehabilitation and Living Center in Lewiston, fit-testing N95 protective face masks for staff. The guard takes on a variety of such missions, and at the time had tested masks for over 2,000 Mainers.

In a show of force like few in American history, Maine business owners, trade workers, first responders and others are among 20,000 National Guardsmen deploying to protect the U.S. capital, where Joseph R. Biden Jr. will be sworn in next Wednesday as the 46th president of the United States.

Between 175 and 200 Maine National Guard troops will assist guardsmen from Washington, D.C., and elsewhere with crowd management, traffic control, communications, and logistical and medical support, according to a news release Wednesday. The number of guard members overall will be about double those for President Barack Obama's inaugurations in 2009 and 2013.

This year's Maine contingent will depart over the weekend and return a few days after the event, public information officer Maj. Carl Lamb told Mainebiz. The guardsmen, who generally have full-time civilian jobs in a wide variety of fields, will receive specific assignments for the inauguration after arriving in Washington.

Already, hundreds of National Guard members are in the district, preparing and even stationing themselves in the U.S. Capitol — a post U.S. soldiers haven’t occupied since the Civil War.

While presidential inaugurations have previously drawn crowds of 200,000, attendance this year is limited to 1,000 because of pandemic concerns. But last week’s riot at the Capitol has forced local and federal law enforcement to turn Washington into a sort of armed camp.

On Jan. 6, supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump stormed the building in an attempt to block Congress’ certification of Electoral College votes from November’s presidential election. On Wednesday, the House of Representatives impeached Trump on the charge of inciting insurrection related to the mayhem.

As unprecedented as the deployment, the riot left at least five people dead, over 50 police injured, and congressional halls defaced and in shambles.

Gov. Janet Mills authorized the sending of Maine guardsmen to Washington in response to a request throughout the country from the Department of Defense National Guard Bureau, Wednesday's release noted. The National Guard — originally formed as Colonial state militia units — is under the joint control of federal and state governments, but can be mobilized by the president without the consent of governors.

Maine guardsmen include about 2,000 members of the Army National Guard and 1,000 members of the Air National Guard, and represent one of the highest levels of guard service in the U.S. on a per capita basis. Together, the soldiers and airmen make up 48 units spread across more than two dozen communities in Maine. In 2018, the guard moved its headquarters to a new $34 million, 101,000-square-foot building in Augusta.

The Maine National Guard originated in 1642. Its largest unit, the 133rd Engineer Battalion, is also currently the oldest, dating to 1760.

"The National Guard has been supporting inaugural activities since the founding of our country, and Maine is no exception," Maj. Gen. Douglas Farnham, Maine's adjutant general, said in the release. "We're proud to join our brothers and sisters from across the country to support the peaceful transition of power and ensure the safety and well-being of our fellow Americans."

A company commander, Capt. Jonathan Bratten, said by email, “I'm extremely proud of our soldiers. The order came, and we were not able to give much notice. That means they’re scrambling to take care of work and family, but they do it with pride, because that’s what they signed up for.”

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