With US Capitol under lockdown and Washington in heightened alert, around 25,000 National Guard troops were deployed in the following January 6 riots to protect President Joe Biden's inauguration. They were hailed as heroes during the inauguration. But a day after, those troops had to scramble to find a place to spend the cold night as they were asked to leave the Capitol, leaving them without a roof. Many had to take shelter in a nearby parking lot.
On Thursday (January 21), thousands of them were resting in the Dirksen Senate Office building. But as per a guardsman, they were asked to vacate the Capitol and congressional buildings immediately without any intimation, forcing them to find a shelter amid cold temperatures outside. Some of them were forced to rest at a parking garage that had just one bathroom, one electrical outlet and no internet reception. They had to pack together and sleep on the floor as per images obtained by media outlets.
"Yesterday dozens of senators and congressmen walked down our lines taking photos, shaking our hands and thanking us for our service. Within 24 hours, they had no further use for us and banished us to the corner of a parking garage. We feel incredibly betrayed," a guardsman told Politico, adding that they were told to take rest outside or at parking lots during their 12-hour shifts.
While the troops have been accommodated in Washington hotels, they can hardly go to the hotel rooms. The members of the guards are on duty for few hours at a time for almost two straight days, making it difficult for them to go back, rest and be on the duty again.
Hence, they had to sleep wherever they could â on the floor, tennis court or carpet floor if they were lucky enough. But as foot traffic from lawmakers increased during the inauguration, Capitol Police ordered them to clear out. Two soldiers told Washington Post that they struggled to find a place. Hence, hundreds of them moved to a nearby parking lot where it was difficult to sleep under fluorescent light and exhaust fume.
"I've never in my entire career felt like I've been booted onto the curb and told, 'Figure it out on your own,'" one of guard members told Washington Post.
"Now I feel like a wet paper towel. You wiped me down and threw me away," another said, referring to lawmakers taking selfies with them to score public relations points.
One portable toilet that they were forced to share was overflowing, images showed. The unhygienic conditions and packing together to stay warm also opened up a possibility of COVID-19 infection. The protocols in place ask for maintaining social distance but it was not possible.
As the images from the parking lot made it to social media platforms, many Senators and Congresspersons joined a public outcry, condemning the incident. "If this is true, it's outrageous. I will get to the bottom of this," Chuck Schumer, Democratic Senate Majority Leader tweeted Thursday night. Soon, lawmakers from both parties joined in apart from the public.
However, after public outcry and calls from lawmakers, the Capitol Police apologized to the soldiers and allowed them back in the Capitol to rest. Many lawmakers offered their offices as well. But as per recent reports, more than 15,000 National Guard troops will be allowed to go home after securing Biden's election. Around 10,600 troops are still in the capital and will be provided logistics to head home in the following days.
Before they head home, Democratic Senator from Illinois, Tammy Duckworth, made sure the guards could come inside the building. "Unreal. I can't believe that the same brave service members we've been asking to protect our Capitol and our Constitution these last two weeks would be unceremoniously ordered to vacate the building. I am demanding answers ASAP. They can use my office," said Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran, who lost her legs in combat. By Friday night, every soldier is expected to clear out of the garage rest inside the Capitol.