Members of the Utah National Guard board a KC-135 jet
at Roland R. Wright Air National Guard Base in Salt Lake City on
Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. The Guardsmen are bound for Washington,
D.C., to support civil authorities during the inauguration of
President-elect Joe Biden.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Utah Sen. Mike Lee upset that National Guard members were forced to vacate Capitol

By Dennis Romboy, Deseret News | Updated - Jan. 22, 2021 at 5:51 p.m. | Posted - Jan. 22, 2021 at 12:41 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Sen. Mike Lee was among lawmakers outraged that National Guard members deployed to provide security at the U.S. Capitol were ordered to move outside or to nearby parking garages for rest areas.

"Very upset by this story but I have been in touch with the Utah National Guard and they are taken care of. My staff and I are investigating what happened here and will continue working to fix this situation," Lee tweeted Thursday evening.

Utah National Guard Lt. Col. Jaime Thomas said members from Utah were not affected by the displacement.

"Our Utah National Guard members had nothing with that nor have they had any issues," she said.

About 350 Utah service members arrived in Washington, D.C., last weekend to support civil authorities for the inauguration of President Joe Biden on Wednesday. As part of their mission, the local service members were tasked to protect lives, preserve property, protect critical infrastructure and the right to peacefully assemble.

In addition to security support, the Utah Air National Guard's 130th Engineering Installation Squadron provided communications support of the inauguration.

Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, called the incident an "absolute disgrace."

Lee tweeted Friday, "I have been told there was a miscommunication between law enforcement agencies yesterday about where Guardsmen were permitted to be. That miscommunication has been resolved and plenty of indoor space has now been made available to the Guardsmen."

Late Friday afternoon, Gov. Spencer Cox called the Utah troops home, saying they have served with distinction since Jan. 15.

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"Now it's time to bring them home as we need their help distributing COVID-19 vaccinations throughout the state," he said in a statement. "We're grateful for the willingness of these dedicated men and women to serve whenever and wherever they are needed."

Politico reported that thousands of National Guardsmen were allowed back into the Capitol on Thursday night, hours after U.S. Capitol Police officials ordered them to vacate the facilities, sending them outdoors or to nearby parking garages after two weeks pulling security duty after the deadly riot on Jan. 6.

One unit, which had been resting in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, was abruptly told to vacate the facility on Thursday, according to one Guardsman. The group was forced to rest in a nearby parking garage without internet reception, with just one electrical outlet, and one bathroom with two stalls for 5,000 troops, the person said. Temperatures in Washington were in the low 40s by nightfall.

Several areas throughout the Capitol complex were designated as authorized rest areas where members of the Guard could take breaks from their shifts protecting the Capitol. By Thursday morning, all those areas had been cleared out and their designations removed, Guard members told CNN.

Guard members said they were told Thursday they could no longer use space in the complex, including areas like the cafeteria of a Senate office building, as a rest area.

"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," one Guardsman told Politico.

Members of Utah's congressional delegation were among those who greeted Guard members at the Capitol or showed them around the building.

Top lawmakers from both parties took to Twitter to decry the decision and call for answers after Politico first reported the news Thursday night, with some even offering their offices to be used as rest areas.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, N.Y., tweeted: "If this is true, it's outrageous. I will get to the bottom of this."

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., noted that the Capitol complex remains closed to members of the public, "so there's plenty of room for troops to take a break in them."

First Lady Jill Biden stopped her motorcade to talk to about two dozen Guard members. She thanked them for protecting her family and said the Bidens were a National Guard family.

"The National Guard will always hold a special place in the hearts of all the Bidens," she said.

Of nearly 26,000 troops from 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia, sent to Washington, about 10,600 remain on duty, according to the National Guard. Arrangements are being made 15,000 to return home over the next five to 10 days. About 7,000 are anticipated to stay on duty through the end of January.

Thursday wasn't the first time that National Guard members deployed to Washington were forced to relocate.

Last June, Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser evicted from their hotels National Guard members, including 200 from Utah, that then-President Donald Trump called to protect the city from civil unrest in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.

The 200 Utah soldiers had finished a night shift at 3 a.m. and were forced out of their hotel by 11 a.m. They had another eight-hour shift that day starting at 6 p.m.

Lee called that eviction "shameful."

Later that day, the D.C. National Guard had found a new hotel for the Utah soldiers.

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Dennis Romboy

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