Cars and pedestrians negotiate their movement along and across busy Washington, D.C. streets. Then a tire flies out of the back of a vehicle and lands with a thud. People looked. Cars swerved. Soldiers jumped into action.
"I didn't see it (the tire) but I heard it," said Pfc. Rafiq Blodgett, one of the first Soldiers to move to the area to retrieve the tire. "We are out here to do whatever it takes to help keep people safe while they attend the event,” he added. “But I didn’t expect to pick up a tire on a downtown street.”
Just part of the day for the approximately 250 District of Columbia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen of Task Force Amendment. The task force was formed at the request of the Metropolitan Police Department to provide crowd management and traffic control in support of the Women’s March on January 19 in Washington, D.C.
“We get requests from local law enforcement to support the city on a regular basis,” said Maj. Paul Martin, the task force commander. “Local law enforcement officials were anticipating several protests and marches in the District of Columbia this weekend, so we were called out to support.”
Martin said that the Guardsman, while sworn-in as Special Police for the day, were not there to enforce local laws—that’s the job of the police. “We are out here to help out with the crowd, to show a presence and to ensure the safety of people in the downtown area,” Martin added.
Around a wide span of some of the Nation’s Capital’s most famous thoroughfares and landmarks, Army tactical vehicles served as barricades to block streets and direct the flow of traffic away from pedestrians participating in the march. At more than a half dozen underground Metrorail stations, Airmen helped manage the flow of travelers exiting trains.
While the task force members have a wide range of military and civilian experience, most don’t work in security or law enforcement; but according to Martin the troops get practical training throughout their careers as members of the National Guard.
“A lot of the things we do on missions like this, we learn as Soldiers and Airmen at our most basic training levels,” said Martin. “Some of these skills sets we do additional training on throughout the year such as domestic operations training especially since we play a major role in providing support to civilian agencies. We design our training year around being able to answer the call when needed. We have to stay ready.”
The long day and chilly temperature didn’t have any impact on the morale of the Guardsman volunteering for the task force.
“This is very important to be to be out the supporting the city and the MPD,” said Spc. Peter McPherson, wheeled vehicle mechanic, 547th Transportation Company. “It’s nice to help the people and many have shown support for us as we do our jobs here. It’s a good feeling and allows me to be a part of something bigger than myself.”