Lengyel: Leave Guard in State Status to Fight Coronavirus

National Guard Bureau Chief Gen. Joseph Lengyel said March 19 that a federal National Guard activation to fight the COVID-19 pandemic would be an illogical and inefficient move.

“I think you can get everything you need from the National Guard more efficiently and more effectively if you leave them in a state status,” he said.

Though President Donald Trump could call for a federal activation—also known as Title 10—if he so desired, it “would not make sense in this situation,” Lengyel said.

“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,” he said.

Federalizing the Guard would “cost billions and billions and billions of dollars” and since the pandemic doesn’t yet demand all-hands-on-deck levels of Guard support, “a lot of people won’t have things to do” under a Title 10 activation.

“There is no need right now to have 450,000 Guardsmen on duty in any given state,” he said. “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,” he said.

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.

He added that any Guard equipment not currently in use abroad is always at governors’ disposals, whether or not their state’s troops are activated in state or federal status.

As of March 19, he said, every U.S. state, territory, and the nation’s capital had declared states of emergency, and 27 governors “have activated parts of their National Guard.”

Currently, 2,050 Guard troops are on state activation to help combat coronavirus, he said, with that number expected to double “by this weekend.” He anticipates that “tens of thousands” of Guard troops will eventually be state-activated in response to the pandemic.

But Guard personnel are also on the receiving end of the virus, he said.

“Thus far, six members of the National Guard have tested positive for COVID-19,” he said. “We have force health-protection measures in place, and will continue to keep our NG members informed as the situation develops.”

While Lengyel did not provide an Air National Guard vs. Army National Guard breakdown, he said that, to his knowledge, no Guard members overseas have tested positive for the virus.