After the Jan. 6 riots on Capitol Hill, the military organized 25,600 guardsmen from across the U.S. and its territories to secure President Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.
Georgia State junior anthropology major and National Guard specialist Brycen J. Garland was among the guardsmen stationed in Washington, D.C., during the inauguration.
On the night of Jan. 6, Garland received word from his team leader that his squad would be in Washington, D.C., for President Biden’s inauguration. He had just returned from being deployed in Germany over the fall semester, which made him take the full semester off school.
“I was really upset because of what happened because it was so bad, but I was upset also because I didn’t want to go,” Garland said.
The rest of Garland’s squad also did not want to disrupt their lives by going to D.C. The amount of time they would have to spend there was uncertain, ranging from days to months away from family, friends, school and work.
“There are other people that have jobs and lives, and they missed a paycheck by having to go up there,” Garland said. “Some of the guys were kind of excited because they’d never been in D.C., but I tried to explain to them that it’s much nicer under better circumstances.”
After the Capitol police recovered several firearms, pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails following the events on Jan. 6 and the Proud Boys made threats to disrupt President Biden’s inauguration, Garland’s squad was unsure of the danger that they might face. In Garland’s words, the military called “enough people to invade a small country” to the inauguration to prepare for any possible violence.
Before his squad left for Washington, D.C., they tried to process the situation’s gravity and the potential need to use lethal force. Their instructions were to use equal force, and they brought M4s, the standard semiautomatic and automatic weapon used in the army, and pistols in case the opposing party got dangerous.
“The only circumstances that we were instructed to use lethal force is if we knew that we or somebody else might die or get seriously injured, like if somebody had a bomb, if somebody had a knife or if somebody had a gun,” Garland said. “In a situation like that, you have to be very wise, and you have to use good judgment.”
However, Garland said that he knew he could never be fully prepared to use such measures and that the thought of shooting an American citizen was “very sad” and “very scary.”
“I don’t care how long you’ve been in the military. There’s nothing that really prepares you for that,” Garland said.
The squad arrived in D.C. at 4 a.m.; while he was shaving, Garland’s platoon leader Lieutenant Thomas asked him if he ever thought he would be in D.C. on Inauguration Day to ensure a peaceful transition of power.
“I said, ‘Hell, no.’ I did not expect it. It was a surprise to everybody all the way from the top to the bottom,” Garland said.
To Garland’s relief, no violence broke out at President Biden’s inauguration, and his squad spent their week and a half in D.C. patrolling, waiting and making sure the area was secure.
He described the experience as “miserable” because of the freezing temperatures and rainy weather they faced. His squad was so cold and tired that they slept in the House of Representatives one time and in the United States Botanic Gardens.
“We were all complaining and swearing like sailors because it was so bad,” Garland said. “But when we weren’t doing that, we were resting in some pretty historic places.”
Garland was at home when he heard the news about the riotous “Save America Rally” storming the U.S. Capitol building. He thought the riot might happen since he knew people attending the protests and people talking about occupying the Capitol to overturn the election results.
“I mean, I know that Trump and his kids and Rudy Giuliani and all these other guys that they had, were there with their rhetoric saying that we need to fight, [using] kind of war talk,” Garland said. “But you just don’t expect people to do that.”
After former President Trump’s acquittal in his second impeachment trial on Feb. 13, President Biden said that the results showed that “democracy is fragile.” Reflecting on the moment he saw the news on Jan. 6, Garland agreed with Biden’s statement and said that the attack on the Capitol showed “how fragile it can actually get.”
“You don’t ever expect that to happen to America because we’re the bastion, the guardians of democracy and democratic values,” Garland said. “So it was really surreal. It was unbelievable.”
After the recent political turmoil and speaking to his peers at Georgia State, family and friends, Garland believes that the country can avoid further division by finding peace to discuss issues respectfully.
“The people who were storming the Capitol on Jan. 6 weren’t willing to [talk],” Garland said. “If you don’t do that, if you don’t have peace and if you don’t have people calming down and listening to each other, this is what happens.”
Garland says that the Biden administration’s primary goal should be to pursue justice but that the country cannot have justice until it has peace. After his time in D.C., he reflected on his time with the National Guard and the military’s future.
“If anybody’s thinking about joining the military, they need to think some more,” Garland said. “I need to think some more about it, especially right now.”