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Maryland National Guard still seeks pay for Jan. 6 response in DC

Maryland National Guard Adjutant General Timothy Gowen speaks with members of the Maryland National Guard. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

The leader of the Maryland National Guard is warning that training missions and equipment maintenance are in peril if the state isn’t reimbursed soon for the Guard’s response to the Jan. 6 storming at the U.S. Capitol.

Maj. Gen. Timothy E. Gowen, the adjutant general for the Maryland National Guard, warned in a letter Tuesday to members of Congress that the Guard is so short on money that he may have to resort to deep budget cuts in the coming weeks.

Maryland Guard members were among the first to arrive in Washington Jan. 6 after protesters overran the Capitol building, disrupting the certification of the 2020 election results. After a delay in getting the sign-off from federal officials, the state sent 500 Guard members, a number that swelled to about 1,000 over the next few weeks.

The deployment to Washington came in the midst of an unprecedented and busy time for the Guard, whose members helped run coronavirus testing sites and food distribution programs and were preparing to staff mass vaccination clinics at the time of the attack on the Capitol.

Brigadier Gen. Janeen Birckhead, for example, went immediately from leading Guard members from multiple states in Washington to overseeing the state’s vaccine equity efforts.

“Obviously this was not an event anyone in the National Guard had planned for so there was not funding set aside for such activities,” Gowen wrote in letters that were sent to all 10 members of the state’s Congressional delegation.

The Guard had to pay salaries and cover expenses for the approximately three week mission in Washington, and has not yet been reimbursed, Gowen wrote.

All told, Guard units across the country spent $521 million related to Jan. 6, though Gowen couldn’t say how much of that is owed to Maryland.

The matter of reimbursement appears to have gotten tangled in larger fights in Congress over the budget and security improvements to the U.S. Capitol complex.

Gov. Larry Hogan posted Gowen’s letter across his social media platforms Tuesday.

“Congressional leaders pleaded with us to send the National Guard to the U.S. Capitol in January, but still haven’t reimbursed expenses from the deployment,” the Republican governor wrote. “We are calling on our congressional delegation to take urgent action to prevent major disruptions to ongoing operations.”

U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen said in a statement that he’s pushing for an emergency funding bill for the Guard, including “pressing my Republican colleagues to get on board at once.”

“When we needed their help, the Maryland National Guard stepped up to protect our Capitol and defend our democracy,” Van Hollen, a Democrat, said in the statement. “We’re forever grateful for their assistance, and I’m committed to ensuring the Guard gets reimbursed for their service.”

More than 26,000 Guard members from across the country responded to Washington, D.C., to protect the U.S. Capitol, with some of them staying for up to five months, according to the National Governors Association.

The governors association issued a statement this week calling on Congress to pass a bill by the end of the month, saying “it’s Congress’s responsibility to ensure the well-being of our service members, especially when supporting federal missions.”

The governors association warned that Guard units may need to cancel regular drill weekends and annual training, postpone equipment maintenance, furlough year-round employees and pause hiring.

Those types of cuts are on the table in Maryland, Gowen said in an interview.

The Maryland Guard has more than 700 federal employees who may need to be cut or furloughed, Gowen said.

“They are the ones that help get us out the doors,” Gowen said. “If we don’t have that backbone, we really can’t respond to emergencies. It’s incredibly important to have those guys there.”

Another area facing cuts that Gowen hopes to avoid is training for the citizen-soldiers and citizen-airmen. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, they’ve already missed out on a year of “schools” that are required for promotions and advancement. Further delays could hinder morale and retention, Gowen said.

The National Guard follows the federal budget year, which ends on Sept. 30. In order to counter the deficit, Gowen said the Guard would have to start cutting training, maintenance and salaries well before then — as early as Aug. 1. The National Guard isn’t allowed to run a budget deficit and can’t borrow money from the Maryland state government.

“Now we’re down to the wire. We’re at the 11th hour,” he said.

Gowen said members of Congress need to know that time is of the essence: “They might not be aware if we don’t get the money now, it’s too late.”


© 2021 The Baltimore Sun
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