By Staff Sgt. Josiah Pugh, LANG Public Affairs Office
NEW ORLEANS – The Louisiana National Guard responded to the District of Columbia National Guard’s request to send troops for assistance and within thirty-six hours from receiving their orders, 160 soldiers and airmen landed just outside of the D.C. area, Jan. 16. The DCNG requested additional troops to support the 59th Presidential Inauguration in the wake of the recent civil unrest at the U.S. Capitol.
The Louisiana Guardsmen who volunteered for the mission were comprised of members from thirty-three different units from across the state, earning the name Task Force Gumbo. “The way we combined all the different units made a really good team in the same way you make a good gumbo,” said Lt. Col. Barry Riley, task force commander.
Task Force Gumbo’s mission was to augment U.S. Capitol Police and the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police department in securing traffic control points and the fence line near the U.S. Capitol building.
Approximately 11 airmen with the 236th Combat Communications Squadron had arrived days earlier and set up communications equipment in the U.S Capitol building, ensuring inter-operability with federal and district partners.
“The equipment we set up enabled radio communication in areas of the capitol where that was not previously possible,” said Master Sgt. Eric Schuele, a radio frequency transmissions systems supervisor with the 159th Fighter Wing. “We also set up essential military and commercial internet and phone lines for our troops within the capitol.”
The LANG troops joined nearly 25,000 National Guard men and women who conducted security, communication and logistical missions in support of federal and D.C. authorities.
“I have visited with these Guard men and women every night, and they understand the importance of this mission,” said Army Gen. Dan Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau. “They are also proven, prepared, and proud to do their part to ensure a peaceful and safe inauguration of our 46th commander-in-chief.”
Troops of Task Force Gumbo were sworn-in as special police and trained on how to appropriately engage with possible protestors, should the situation have turned violent. New Orleans-native Master Sgt. Steven Mehrtens, a security forces training manager with the 159th Fighter Wing, trained the soldiers and airmen throughout the mission.
“This training is especially important now, because we are dealing with the general public,” said Mehrtens.
Fortunately, in the five days the Louisiana Guardsmen spent guarding the capitol day and night, the atmosphere along the fence line remained calm.
Everyone from the all-volunteer troops from Task Force Gumbo came out of the experience with something different.
Baton Rouge-native 1st Lt. Bria Johnson, a medical platoon leader with the 1-141 Field Artillery Battalion, volunteered so she could grow as a leader.
“I was exposed to a lot of military jobs that are different from what I’m used to and that will make me a better leader.”
For New Orleans-native Senior Airman Jonathan Willis-Toney, a security forces specialist with the 159th Fighter Wing, this mission was a unique experience for him.
“This was an opportunity to grow and to protect the values of my country. I learned how to be a better leader and saw what sacrifices it takes.”
Soldiers and airmen had an opportunity, before flying home, to meet with both of their senators from Louisiana.
“Now we have the security of the capitol, which is under complete control. I can just not thank you all enough,” praised Senator Bill Cassidy, when he visited the Louisiana Guardsman. “In the last year, you’ve had a pandemic, you’ve had three or four hurricanes, and you’ve had this assignment – I thank you for that.”