GREAT FALLS — On Friday morning, Gov. Greg Gianforte announced that he has asked Montana Adjutant General Major General Pete Hronek to bring home the 150 National Guard soldiers who were deployed to Washington, D.C., last week.
The Guardsmen were sent to D.C. to assist with security missions centered around President Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20. Now that the inauguration and all preceding and succeeding events have concluded without a hitch, many troops deployed from around the country may begin to return to their respective states.
But Montana Army National Guard Public Affairs Officer Major Dan Bushnell explained that the process isn’t as simple as sending a plane to pick the troops up.
“That work is the process of bringing those young men and women home,” he explained. “We don’t just fly an aircraft in there, grab them, and bring them home. It takes a little bit of coordination and some planning on our part to do that, so a little bit of work has to be done.”
The Guard has not yet provided an exact date for when the troops will return to the Treasure State, but Bushnell estimated that it would likely be days, not weeks before they make it home. Another obstacle that could slow down the process is the potential that the soldiers are still performing ongoing security missions, which they may not be able to leave right away. Bushnell explained that there has to be some coordination on the ground in D.C. to ensure that all required missions have been completed before the troops can begin preparing to leave.
Also, it isn’t just Montana’s troops that are preparing to leave.
“14,000 other soldiers, approximately, are trying to get home as well, and so minimal runway space for aircraft to get those folks to the other respective states, other mission sets that are there, they have to out-process there, at D.C., and so all that work has to be done, and so it’s not something that you can just turn on and turn off as you want to,” said Bushnell. “So, (it takes) a little bit of coordination. I wouldn’t anticipate it being weeks down the road, I’m anticipating it occurring fairly quickly, but we just don’t know at this point.”
This isn’t the first time the Montana National Guard has been activated to assist with domestic operations recently; troops made their way around the state in 2020 to assist with operations aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, including a stint at Benefis Health System in Great Falls.
As far as missions outside of Montana, however, it’s been a bit longer. Bushnell could not say for sure, but when asked about the last time Montana Guardsmen were sent to support a mission outside of the Treasure State, he recalled Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Gulf Coast of the U.S., inflicting the most damage on Louisiana, in 2005.
“Right off the top of my head, the one that I can remember was Hurricane Katrina in 2005,” he recalled. “We supported that and Hurricane Katrina with Security Forces as well as a whole host of other mission sets that we were asked to do.”
Bushnell said that the troops will be tested for COVID-19 before they return home, and also noted that many of them were given the COVID-19 vaccine before leaving for their mission.
With their mission complete, I have instructed Adjutant General Hronek to bring our @GuardMontana soldiers home.— Governor Greg Gianforte (@GovGianforte) January 22, 2021
The soldiers are from the 484th Military Police Company, the 143rd Military Police Detachment (Law & Order) and Headquarters, Headquarters Company of the 1-163rd Combined Arms Battalion. They are trained for responding to civil disturbances and were tasked with supporting Washington, D.C., police and federal law enforcement.
The Guard members traveled to D.C. on four C-130 Hercules aircraft from the Montana Air National Guard.