Mar 19, 2020
US National Guard Briefing Transcript Amid COVID-19 Outbreak
The National Guard held a news conference today detailing what they are doing to combat the growing COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. Read the full transcript of their briefing.
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Speaker 1: (00:00)
Fact sheets from the National Guard, Lieutenant Colonel Chris Mitchell will be calling questions. When asking a question, please identify yourself and your outlet and limit to one question and one followup in the interest of time. With that, I’ll turn it over to General Lengyel’s comments, sir.
General Joseph Lengyel: (00:16)
Thank you. Good morning everybody. I’m glad to be here today to fill you in on what’s going on in the National Guard. So today we face a national emergency in this COVID-19 pandemic. This is a serious situation and we are all concerned about the health and safety of our fellow Americans, our first responders, and our citizens, soldiers and airmen. Thus, far, six members of the national guard have tested positive for COVID-19. We have force health protection measures in place and we’ll continue to keep our National Guard members informed as the situation develops. We all play an important part in ensuring the health and safety of our communities and this responsibility we take seriously. We are here to support each other and to support our communities.
General Joseph Lengyel: (00:58)
I want to take this opportunity to talk about what the National Guard is doing in response to COVID-19. First of all, it’s a historic event unlike any we have faced in recent years. For example, when there’s a hurricane, you can see it on a map and you have a sense of how hard the storm will hit and how long the storm will last. With COVID-19 it’s like we have 54 separate hurricanes in every state, territory, and the District of Columbia. Some are category fives, some are category threes sort of category ones.
General Joseph Lengyel: (01:24)
Unlike a hurricane, we don’t know when this is going to dissipate or move out to sea, but a historic event demands a historic response and that’s what the National Guard is prepared to as America’s principle domestic military response force. The National Guard has a unique military component. We are part of the air force and part of the army. But if you are going to design an ideal military component to assist with a response like this, it would be a component like the National Guard.
General Joseph Lengyel: (01:51)
We are 450,000 strong in every state territory, nearly every zip code in the country. When disaster strikes, we don’t have to mobilize from some base. We pack a lunch, we go to work because we are already there in the communities where these events are taking place. We live there. We can respond faster. We bring our military training, equipment, and experience to help our communities here at home. What we offer is unlike any other military component to our communities. While circumstances will continue to evolve, here are the facts as they stand, all 54 States, territories and the district of Columbia have declared a state of emergency. Governors in 27 States have activated parts of their National Guard. Across those 27 States, at this time, 2050 National Guard members have been brought on state active duty to assist the response.
General Joseph Lengyel: (02:41)
We anticipate that number going up relatively quickly in fact doubling by this weekend. We expect the total number of guardsmen activated will increase rapidly as test kits become available and as the situation unfolds. We are ready to respond depending on the needs of the community and as ordered by the response network by the governors in every state. We are involved in a multitude of mission sets and functional areas. The national guard is providing medical testing, assessments, facilities, ground transportation, logistics, command and control planners, liaison officers. We will continue to adapt as this unfolds.
General Joseph Lengyel: (03:20)
We are already making a difference in communities across the country. For example, the New York national guard have been helping local officials distribute food to those who need it much in the hard-hit area of New Rochelle. The Tennessee area National Guard C17 delivered swabs, half a million swabs to be added to test kits to Memphis just yesterday. In South Florida, more than 500 soldiers are assisting with collecting samples for drive through testing in Broward County.
General Joseph Lengyel: (03:50)
In Maryland, the National Guard is supporting medical assessments and testing site operations. Wisconsin are supporting transportation missions for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. In Louisiana guard liaison officers are assisting the New Orleans office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. Across the country our civil support teams are supporting the local departments of health with drive through testing stations.
General Joseph Lengyel: (04:16)
It was just two weeks ago, California National Guard started this with the California National Guard who delivered test kits to the Grand Princess cruise ship off the coast. This is just a sample of the efforts that we are supporting across the country. Going forward we expect the role of the National Guard will continue to grow and evolve to meet the country’s needs. During this historic pandemic. We remain flexible and committed to whatever mission we may be called to do. I want to thank all of our guard members and all the first responders for their service during this difficult time. We continue to rise to every challenge before us and continue to work with our partners to keep our nation safe, remain true to our motto. Always ready, always there. I appreciate your time and I look forward to your questions.
Bob Burns: (05:01)
General, Bob Burns from AP. You mentioned that the 2000 plus guard members who have been called up by governors at this point, I’m wondering, is there any discussion you’re having, others are having about the possibility of mobilizing the guard under federal authority and what would be advantage of doing that?
General Joseph Lengyel: (05:18)
So, you know the National Guard is a reserve component, United States army and air force. Certainly, if the president with this declaration, if you wanted to mobilize the National Guard and a title 10 federal status, he could do that. But that would not make sense in this situation. The best use of the National Guard is to use the National Guard for the unique authorities that it has. That is to remain under the command and control of the networks in the states. Every state has a different way to deal with disasters and the National Guard is uniquely qualified and posture to act under the command and control of the governors in the state.
General Joseph Lengyel: (05:54)
So if you were to federalize them, you would lose that ability and you would lose some other things. For instance, a unique attribute to the National Guard is we can operate as law enforcement capacity to assist state and local law enforcement inside the states. If you were to federalize the National Guard, then you would lose that ability to do that. So, well, I mean certainly the president can mobilize and federalize the National Guard, but it would be my advice and there’s no plans that I’m aware of to take the National Guards in the states and put them in a federal status. They’re much better used in a state status under command and control of the governors.
Bob Burns: (06:30)
Speaker 4: (06:32)
General, you talked about the Tennessee guard moving those half million swabs to Memphis. I guess FedEx is going to distribute them around the country. Walk us through what you think the guard role will be after that point. I mean, after the tests are done, the guard members get into the lab. So, what do you expect your role to be? Because that’s a large volume of swabs obviously once that starts moving.
General Joseph Lengyel: (06:57)
So, I think that best determined by the situation in each and every state and the capacities in each and every state from what they have in the civilian sector and in the public health sector and all the rest. The National Guard will be used in a variety. I know Tennessee is planning to establish perhaps drive through test sites. We have a medical capability where we can train members of the National Guard to actually administer the test or support other civilian medical professionals who might administer the test. So we could clearly be involved in directly administering the test if that was the case. I mean some states, Colorado, New York, Rhode Island have already used their National Guards to actually administer tests. I mentioned this morning Florida is rapidly expanding to do that. We could be the transportation mechanism that actually delivers and equips the various drive through test sites that are out there.
General Joseph Lengyel: (07:53)
Logistics, command and control planning. We can help the emergency response network plan that. So all of the functional messages that I mentioned earlier in my opening remarks will be involved across the spectrum as individual states see fit. That’s what’s best about the way it’s set now as you may think, well there’s only 2050 members on state active duty. As these mission sets and requirements develop, the governors can incrementally bring. Even though there’s only 27 that have added National Guard members, every state as it is general and every state’s joint force headquarters is thinking and planning about how best to integrate. They’re integrating with the public health services inside the states. They are doing that and we can become available and come on duty in a matter of hours and that’s good then.
Speaker 4: (08:45)
So, you have 2000 roughly guard members-
General Joseph Lengyel: (08:47)
Speaker 4: (08:47)
… taking part in this and you said it’ll double I guess by this week [crosstalk 00:08:51]-
General Joseph Lengyel: (08:51)
As I have-
Bob Burns: (08:52)
… show you down the road a month, two months. What are you telling your guard members? Do we expect it to go up? I mean give a sense of [crosstalk 00:09:02]-
General Joseph Lengyel: (09:03)
I think it’s hard to tell what the exact requirement will be, but I’m expecting tens of thousands to be used inside the states as this grows. I think that states have the capacity or planning to do those kinds of things. Just as I had my… I’ve been having calls with the guard generals in every States. But I think that this could quickly blossom in the next couple of weeks as governors and states determine their needs and ways to use their National Guards.
Tara Copp: (09:35)
Thank you Tara Copp with McClatchy. General, you’d mentioned that you also plan for hurricanes and we’ve learned that this can go well into July and August deep into hurricane season. What sort of planning are you doing right now for coastal communities that may be in self quarantine, who might be dealing with these two disasters at once?
General Joseph Lengyel: (09:56)
Sure. I think there are many things that the Department of Defense and the National Guard is going to have to do. I mean, we’re still ongoing with our continuous deployments around the world, every commander. States are still planning, particularly in the Gulf Coast for hurricanes that will come up along the side. I think we’re dealing with this issue right now as the closest nearest issue that the states have to deal with. But if and when a hurricane were to come, the states will be prepared and the Emergency Response Network, FEMA, the whole apparatus will be ready to come together and deal with that if we have to do it as well.
Tara Copp: (10:31)
But what sort of planning I think… Are you doing planning already? Because if a hurricane comes, everyone’s told to evacuate, but what if you have a community that’s in quarantine?
General Joseph Lengyel: (10:41)
Yeah, well I think that’s a good question. I mean, right now I think we’re in the midst of dealing with this pandemic and the flu and every state, every year plans to deal with evacuation procedures and policies and how are we going to get our people away from the coast. So I think that those plans are sitting there on the shelf. We may have to adapt how we do it. If people are… If there’s quarantine things out there. But hopefully by July, August timeframe when the hurricanes hit with the traditional size, perhaps can be mitigated by then. But we’ll just have to deal with that when it comes to it.
Chris Mitchell: (11:18)
For everybody that we’ve got on the phones right now, I’d like to remind the media that’s on their phone lines to mute your phones. We’re getting a lot of feedback on the line. So please we’ll be going to you shortly. Bill.
Over 21,000 guards are overseas. Is there any thought that as this crisis accelerates in the coming weeks, which is the projection that at some point potentially this could be your priority, the national mission could be your priority as opposed to the overseas mission. Is there any thought about kind of reconfiguring how the Guard does business by dividing up it’s priorities?
General Joseph Lengyel: (11:54)
So, the national guard is a combat reserve United States army, United States air force. So we have… The role that we play as part of the army and the air force I think will continue. So I mean to bring people home from current mission, I mean if you bring people home that are doing mission overseas there are national security implications of what we’re doing around the world, those are important things. You don’t have to send another piece over there to replace them. So the way the Department of Defense is built these days is it doesn’t do really any mission around the world without using pieces of the reserve component and the National Guard. So, and I think there are plans to retrieve missions that are been mobilized overseas at this point. We’re going to continue to be part of those deployments going forward.
You think that the… Are there any guard overseas that have tested positive? Are you concerned that guard overseas are getting tested enough and and their tests are being turned around fast enough?
General Joseph Lengyel: (12:50)
I think that guardians overseas they’re part of the United States army, United States air force and if they need testing they’re getting medical treatment no different than any other member of the military. I’m not aware of any National Guard member that has tested positive in overseas, but if there is, there’ll be treated like any other airmen or any other soldier.
Chris Mitchell: (13:09)
[inaudible 00:13:09] we’ll go to you and then we’ll go to the phones next.
Speaker 8: (13:12)
Yes, General Lengyel just to follow up on Phil’s question, are there tests for national guardsman in the military overseas that have been administered? I mean, do you have tests?
General Joseph Lengyel: (13:21)
Does the National Guard have tests?
Speaker 8: (13:23)
Wherever they’re located, are people actually getting tested or do we just not know that they may have it because they have not been tested?
General Joseph Lengyel: (13:31)
I think the military apparatus that’s overseas has some testing if they… The same processes in place for any military member that might need to test.
Speaker 8: (13:42)
In terms of the… I’m trying to understand what is the downside of mobilizing the National Guard with the federal order. If you could explain that for our audience more clearly, what would they not be able to do in terms of law enforcement if they are mobilized from at the federal level?
General Joseph Lengyel: (14:03)
So posse comitatus using the title 10 military members in a law enforcement capacity against the American people is prohibited. So I think that we want to keep and that is title 10 active duty military forces that you can’t do that with. So if you keep the national guard under the command and control of their governors in what we call title 32 or state active duty status. They have additional authorities that can assist law enforcement. They maintain their direct command and control links within their States. It makes it a faster, more rapid, more efficient response for the governor and the state emergency response network to use them. So that’s the reason we want to keep them in a state status as we go forward.
Courtney Kube: (14:51)
Can I ask a follow up on that? Courtney Kube with NBC News. So do you see a role in law enforcement for National Guard troops going forward in response to current events?
General Joseph Lengyel: (14:59)
Could be. I mean, I think that in many disasters and response when there’s a pressure put on otherwise civilian law enforcement activities, people get sick. They need more law enforcement potential out there. Then the national guard could be used in that capacity if they would. Do I see it happening now? I don’t see any demand signal that’s demanding that we’re going to use the National Guard in that kind of scenario. But they could, governors could under the command and control of the governors and law enforcement in the states. They could use their National Guard.
Courtney Kube: (15:30)
Can you give us just a couple of examples of the kinds of things they could be used for in law enforcement?
General Joseph Lengyel: (15:34)
They could be used for, if they wanted to assist patrols, if they want it to just in general law enforcement to make sure that people were following laws. Just anything that the law enforcement capacity normally does that can be augmented with National Guard.
Courtney Kube: (15:53)
General Joseph Lengyel: (15:56)
They could be out there with law enforcement and generally they are with civilian law enforcement when they do it. They could be used in any number of capacities that the governor might see fit.
Chris Mitchell: (16:05)
Okay. We’re going to go to the phones. Sylvie from AFP.
Speaker 1: (16:16)
Sylvie, where are you?
Chris Mitchell: (16:17)
Okay. We’ll, come back on to the floor. There.
Speaker 10: (16:26)
What sort of preparations are you doing for… If the guard is used to help either construct or man field hospitals?
General Joseph Lengyel: (16:35)
So I mean, I think that the Guard has the capacity to have engineer units. They can build things. I haven’t heard of any plans to build field hospitals using the National Guard, but we have the ability to use National Guard manpower, engineer capacity, heavy equipment to do whatever it is state apparatus sees that it needs to do good.
Speaker 11: (17:00)
Can I follow up on that same point?
General Joseph Lengyel: (17:01)
Speaker 11: (17:02)
My question is on the field hospitals. There are, if I’m not mistaken, guard units that are combat support hospital unit. Have they been activated? Are they being used? Or will they be?
General Joseph Lengyel: (17:15)
So, I mean there have been some medical capability use. New York has brought a 50 medics on board. I think the total number of the 2000 people are medical technicians. But as far as bringing on field hospitals, that capacity has not been activated in the National Guard. E.
Speaker 11: (17:37)
But it exist in the guard.
General Joseph Lengyel: (17:38)
I don’t think we have actually field hospitals in the National Guard. I think that’s more army reserve kind of things with field hospitals. But we do have medical technicians and medical capabilities and medical battalions and medical technicians and the like. If the governors want to mobilize them and use them in a sense they can do that.
Speaker 11: (17:56)
General Joseph Lengyel: (17:57)
The issue with the medical issue is, as we’ve talked about many times, is if you were to activate the reserve component medical forces and bring them on duty in the military, you’re taking them out of the civilian system. So there’s a kind of a zero sum game here with medical technicians and medical personnel.
Speaker 11: (18:12)
That’s why I asked about the field hospitals because there’s a lot of talk about the need for that there’s no [crosstalk 00:18:18] from the guard as far as you know?
General Joseph Lengyel: (18:18)
I don’t think we have field hospitals in guard. I could be wrong, but I’ll check that and get back with you.
Speaker 11: (18:22)
Chris Mitchell: (18:22)
Speaker 1: (18:22)
Right. [crosstalk 00:18:25].
Nicole Werbeck: (18:26)
Nicole Werbeck with Public Radio. Thanks for doing this. I have a process question. Going back to the not federalizing and keeping it under state control. If, say like Colorado needs more National Guard to test potential cases, would they have to go through you guys to request it? Like if Kansas had extra or Arkansas had extra capacity to get them over, how would that work?
General Joseph Lengyel: (18:49)
So I mean, traditionally if you use my hurricane example in the past, we have a National Guards share via emergency management assistance, compact state to state their various capabilities. They can make those deals from one state to another and generally, they don’t have to come through us or the National Guard. But we generally play the role of, “Hey, we can find another state that has unused capacity.” That they may be able to create EMAC agreement with another state. So if Colorado perhaps wanted to find some help, they could come to us to do that.
Chris Mitchell: (19:27)
Barbara, we’re going to go to you and after this we’re going to try the phones again. And again, if you are on the phone, please mute your phones. We’ve got a feedback loop going on, which is keeping us from being able to go to you. Thank you.
Awesome. Can I go back to the issue again of federalizing the Guard, because there’s something I still don’t understand. Could you just explain, by not federalizing the Guard, number one, if you do not do that, are there any capabilities separate from law enforcement that you are foregoing by not federalizing the guard? If you did federalize the guard, is there some automatic, well therefore they have law enforcement authorities wouldn’t there be some additional step? You’re concerned about them being in law enforcement posse comitatus. But wouldn’t there be some additional step before they could even engage in law enforcement activities? Does federalizing the Guard automatically give them law enforcement authorities? But what would you be foregoing by not federalizing?
General Joseph Lengyel: (20:34)
So federalizing the National Guard, you actually take them out from under the command and control inside their state and you give them to a federal title 10 military structure. So it’s a much more efficient system to leave the guard in a state status that they still have all the structure, all the equipment, all the people. The governor can access every single component of the system.
General Joseph Lengyel: (20:59)
It also provides a more of a flexible option to use the Guard. I’ll give you an example of if you needed to use some piece, 130 man unit of a piece of a National Guard and you said, “Well, if I take all of that, I’m going to take all of the police officers out of this civilian community.” If they’re in a state status, the local commander can say, “Let’s not use those. Let’s leave the police in their civilian jobs. Those 10 people, then we’ll take 120 people.” Once you start federalizing the national guard, now you make it a less flexible system to be used in the States.
So, just to follow up again, does federalizing the guard automatically convey law enforcement authority?
General Joseph Lengyel: (21:44)
So that’s not really an issue then, because there would still be others. Your concern about them engaging in law enforcement, that there’s another step [crosstalk 00:21:56]-
General Joseph Lengyel: (21:56)
So the ability to use the Guard in law enforcement as an authority that they have when they are not federalized.
Right. So, here’s what I don’t understand, this is potentially… If you listened to the administration and the state’s already. One of the most dire situations the country has faced in recent years, if federalized… I take your point that you believe federalizing is not the right answer. So if it’s not the right answer, I mean this sincerely, why does that option even exist?
General Joseph Lengyel: (22:28)
To federalize them?
General Joseph Lengyel: (22:31)
Well, I mean if we were to go to war with a major peer competitor and if you needed to grow the United States army by 350,000 people, then Congress would give us the mobilization authority to federalize all of the National Guard. The National Guard would all be part of the United States army and then we would go to war. So that is the World War II scenario of using the National Guard. Everyone is mobilized in a federal status.
Genuinely, you don’t see this crisis at that point yet?
General Joseph Lengyel: (23:00)
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. Those 450,000 men and women are out in the 54 states, territories and the district, they’re there. Their equipment, if they’re not mobilized overseas, it is there for the governor to use it if he need it. If you mobilize all of the National Guard, it’s going to cost billions and billions and billions of dollars and a lot of people won’t have things to do.
General Joseph Lengyel: (23:30)
I mean there is no need right now to have 450,000 guardsmen on duty in any given state. As states need the National Guard to react to this pandemic. Governors have the authority to bring them on a, on active duty as there are tasks and purpose for them to be used. So that’s why to me it makes much more sense. To the governors and to the 54 adjutant generals, it makes much more sense to leave them so that they can be mobilized as they need, piece at a time under the command and control of the networks that are in the states.
Quickly, I assume you’ve told this to the secretary, the chairman?
General Joseph Lengyel: (24:07)
Chris Mitchell: (24:09)
Okay. We’ve got time for one more. I’m going to try and get back to the phone lines one more time. I’m [inaudible 00:24:13].
Speaker 14: (24:13)
Hello? Do you hear me?
Chris Mitchell: (24:18)
Speaker 14: (24:20)
Great. Hello, general. I understand that you don’t want to mobilize all the doctors from the National Guard because it would take them from the civilian medical community, but do you have some… What is the equipment that you could give the community to help in these crisis? What do you have at your disposal in terms of equipment?
General Joseph Lengyel: (24:53)
So, we have all of the normal equipment for all of our units, whether they’re engineering units, whether we need to set up tents, facilities. Should we need kitchens and cooking facilities, all of those types of abilities that exist throughout the National Guard we have. The medical equipment for the specific medical units. Really, it’s a relatively small contribution. I think when you look at the scope and scale of what this might be across the nation. But all of the equipment from the military perspective is available for the governors to be used. There’s trucks, and there’s helicopters, and there’s buses, and there’s all kinds of logistics capability and plans and controls capability. But what we bring is units, units of people that can do whatever task a governor might need it to do.
Speaker 14: (25:44)
Okay. Thank you general.
Chris Mitchell: (25:49)
That’s all we’ve got time for today. Thank you for joining us today.
General Joseph Lengyel: (25:51)
Okay. Thank you all very much.
Speaker 10: (25:53)