WASHINGTON -- With the National Guard taking an increased role in security at the nation’s capital and near government buildings throughout the U.S. this week, the Army’s top enlisted leader lauded the efforts of Guard members during the U.S. Capitol protest earlier this month.
Guardsmen backed federal and Washington, D.C., police officers as they attempted to quell the Jan. 6 riot by protestors who stormed the Capitol building. According to the Washington Post, the Soldiers operated under rigid restrictions including limits on interactions with police and orders not to engage with protestors, except in self-defense.
“They came in and they did the mission that we asked them to do,” said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston during an Association of the U.S. Army Noon Report Jan. 12. “And they … did a phenomenal job.”
On Jan. 11, the Guard had at least 6,200 troops on the ground in Washington, but now up to 25,000 are authorized to deploy here in support of Tuesday's presidential inauguration amid warnings of further riot activity.
Army senior leaders, including Grinston, released a statement on Jan. 13 saying, “The Army is steadfast in its role to defend our nation, and our National Guard Soldiers continue their mission to support local law enforcement.”
Grinston said during the AUSA event that the Guard continues to field requests from various agencies within the capital region.
“We're still getting the requests from all the agencies that are requesting them,” he said. “There's a process for that. And we're still getting them today.”
Gen. Daniel Hokanson, National Guard Bureau chief, and Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy helped coordinate additional troop support from Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia, which arrived on Jan. 7.
Grinston said that he, like most of the nation, watched with concern as protestors invaded the Capitol building.
“It was tough to watch,” he said. “I think we all were sitting there going, ‘Man, this is tough to absorb.’”
He also praised Guardsmen who have answered the call in the past year, including response missions for COVID-19, civil unrest and record weather storms.
Soldiers assisted search-and-rescue efforts during Hurricane Sally, which pounded the Gulf Coast in September. Guard members and reservists deployed to the Javits Center in New York City last spring to help bring relief to health care workers and coronavirus patients.
“We've continuously met all the demands that the nation and sometimes the world has [needed] us to do,” Grinston said.
Lives to protect
Soldier suicides also continue to be a concern for Army leaders.
Grinston said that he and Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Joseph M. Martin have spent the past six months traveling to Army installations in support of the Army’s “A Life Worth Living” initiative, an effort intended to identify warning signs and prevent suicide within the service.
Some installations, including Joint Base San Antonio, have a working group assigned to the program. The Army Medical Center of Excellence there has a diverse team of leaders with behavioral health, legal or chaplain experience that examine each facet of work and professional life that could lead to self-harm. It also hosts meditation sessions and promotes awareness of factors that may trigger suicidal thoughts.
The Army has implemented several suicide prevention pilot programs including a 12-month prevention program that launched at Fort Bliss and Fort Hood in Texas and at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Grinston said Army senior leaders meet with Army command leadership teams once a month to address how to curb military suicides.
He also recently added a link to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the bio of his social media sites to further highlight suicide prevention.
“What can we do from an Army policy [standpoint] to help you get to know your Soldiers? So, from a staff perspective, we're looking at this,” Grinston said. “I get the reports every week. We look at it from a senior leader perspective … throughout the Army once a month and say, ‘Hey, what can we do? What are we not doing?’”
Grinston stressed that Soldiers should not be afraid to seek behavioral health assessments or mental health counseling. He said Soldiers often may be afraid of being labeled as weak or not mentally fit.
“I want everybody to understand: it's OK to seek behavioral health [assistance],” Grinston said. “We all need it. I look at it like, if I broke my leg, I go to the hospital and nobody questions it. I want to be mentally and physically fit.”
This is My Squad
As part of the Army’s “This is My Squad” initiative, Grinston has encouraged Soldiers to spend more time with squad mates to build greater unity and eliminate misconduct. By learning the backgrounds of squad members, Grinston has argued, it will lead to stronger unit cohesion.
When questioned about removing extremism from the Army’s ranks, Grinston took a stern approach.
“We've never had a place where extremism in the ranks was tolerated,” he said. “It's just something we all disagree with. There is no room for racism and extremism. We've dealt with this many times since I've been in the Army for 32 years.”
Grinston also added that while he doesn’t object to Soldiers posting various concerns on social media, he would prefer that troops confide in their squad leaders first.
“Why didn't they reach out to their squad leader?” Grinston said. “I don't think I'm upset when [Soldiers] reach out on social media. I think I'm worried that they felt like they had to reach out on social media. Were we communicating? Were we doing everything that we need to do?”