The National Guard’s motto — “Always ready, always there” — is no idle boast. Washingtonians have seen the men and women of the Guard here, there and everywhere in recent months.
When wildfires swept the state last summer and fall, Washington National Guard units were there, ready to protect lives and property. When the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis led to unrest in Seattle and elsewhere, Gov. Jay Inslee activated Guard units to strike a balance between civil liberties and public order.
Responding to natural disasters and public disturbances are familiar roles for the Guard, but they do so much more.
In recent decades, Guard troops became overseas defenders of freedom. They have provided about 40% of American boots on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.
They have served in less militarized ways, too.
One example: The coronavirus pandemic triggered a tsunami of claims for jobless benefits, swamping Washington’s Employment Security Department, which was also confronting costly fraud. National Guard personnel stepped in to help clear a backlog of identity verifications. The Guard’s assistance helped to quicken payment of legitimate claims and helped to protect the public from further fraud.
Another example: The Washington National Guard helped process, package and distribute 73 million pounds of food to food banks as they struggle to meet rising demand during the pandemic.
And one more: Washington and other states are turning to the National Guard for assistance in meeting the logistical challenges of administering COVID-19 testing and vaccine to millions of people.
The pandemic is not the only factor imposing new duties upon the National Guard. The National Guard helped secure both the U.S. Capitol Building and the state Capitol this month. These deployments came in the wake of a violent insurrection in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, and a protest that breached security at the governor’s mansion in Olympia on that same date.
The concept of neighbors organizing to provide mutual defense and emergency aid has deep roots in American civic culture. The National Guard traces its origins to militia regiments formed in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636. Washington’s National Guard began in 1855 as a territorial militia, 35 years before statehood.
Most of the men and women of the Guard are civilians. They work and raise families in communities across the state and nation, leaving their homes only for regular Guard training and occasional deployments.
The men and women of the National Guard remain the best of us, because they are us.