National Guard Chief: Don't Federalize Us To Fight Outbreak - Will Waste "Billions"

Following Italy's declaration of martial law, and with some US states like California coming very close to it amid rumors the White House has plans to mobilize the military on a federal level, the National Guard Bureau chief is hitting back against discussions to activate the guard. 

National Guard Bureau Chief Gen. Joseph Lengyel told reporters at a Pentagon press briefing on Thursday that federalizing the National Guard to fight the Covid-19 pandemic would ultimately prove illogical and inefficient, as it was designed fundamentally for a state and local response.

This as President Trump mulls federal activation of the guard through Title 10. Gen. Lengyel acknowledged this is legally an option, yet would be imprudent. The general said it “would not make sense in this situation,” according to Air Force Magazine.

Chief of National Guard Guard Bureau, General Joseph L. Lengyel, via Utah National Guard/Flickr

“The best use of the National Guard is to use the National Guard for the unique authorities that it has, and that is to remain under the command and control of the networks in the states,” the National Guard general said. Another key argument was that it would essentially be “billions and billions of dollars” wasted.

“There is no need right now to have 450,000 Guardsmen on duty in any given state,” he argued. “As states need the National Guard to react to this kind of pandemic, governors have the authority to bring them on Active duty, as there are tasks and purpose for them to be used.” A federalized guard during this crisis would in reality result in “a lot of people won’t have things to do” under Title 10, given also the large numbers to be deployed.

But the heart of his argument seemed to be this somewhat ambiguous prospect

Since Title 10 activation prohibits “military members in a law-enforcement capacity against the American,” a federal activation would inhibit troops’ ability to back-up state and local law enforcement during the crisis, Lengyel told reporters during a Pentagon press briefing.

At this point at least 27 governors “have activated parts of their National Guard” - which according to Lengyel is a better approach in terms of scaling the military response according to the local situation, which differs from region to region.

Colorado guardsmen at a drive-through testing site outside the Denver Coliseum, via AP.

With Georgia being the first to activate some 2,000 guard troops to respond to the crisis there, Gen. Lengyel said he expects “tens of thousands” to be activated in the coming days and weeks. 

It should be noted there's a further question of whether large-scale military mobilization on domestic soil would actually end up exacerbating the outbreak crisis: “Thus far, six members of the National Guard have tested positive for COVID-19,” Lengyel said.