File-Indiana National Guard

Indiana National Guard officer Lauryan Tyler helps to box food items that will be sent to an Indiana family, Friday, April 17, 2020, in Indianapolis. The food boxes were filled with shelf-stable items designed to help supplement the pantries of families who are struggling due to COVID-19 shut-downs.

(The Center Square) –They were sent to Washington in January to help guard the U.S. Capitol and secure a smooth transition from one administration to the next. But some Hoosiers are wondering what they’re still doing there.

As of this week, there are about 250 Indiana National Guard troops remaining in the nation’s capital.

“The treatment of our men and women in uniform at Fort Pelosi has been simply unacceptable. It’s time to send the troops home!” Rep. Jim Banks, a Republican from Fort Wayne, tweeted on Wednesday in response to news reports that members of the Michigan National Guard were fed food with metal shavings in it, and also uncooked chicken.

But it’s not just the treatment of the troops that bothers Banks and others. The National Guard troops constitute a heavy military presence in the capital, with soldiers patrolling on both sides of a tall metal fence that surrounds the U.S. Capitol and congressional office buildings.

On Tuesday, Banks – who is chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the in-house think tank of House Republicans – asked on Twitter: “So why is the People’s House still fenced off? Why is our capital city still militarized?” He was commenting on a tweet from a Fox News reporter saying the acting sergeant at arms had testified that there was no sign that any groups were planning to travel to Washington to protest or commit acts of violence.

The Indiana National Guard has a dual mission.

During peacetime, Guardsmen and Airmen serve under the command of the governor and can be called up to help with emergencies.

In times of national emergency, they can be called up by the president to serve as reserve troops for the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force.

On Jan. 13, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced he was sending 625 members of the Indiana National Guard to Washington. It was a week after the storming of the Capitol building on Jan. 6 and a week before the inauguration of Joe Biden as president.

More than 400 Guardsmen and Airmen returned to Indiana on Jan. 25, to the Indiana National Guard base at Camp Atterbury. In a press release, the Guard said they’d “helped with crowd and traffic control at the National Mall and near the White House” and “helped ensure a peaceful transfer of power.”

But about 250 members of the Indiana National Guard have remained in Washington, along with about 5,000 other Guardsmen from across the country.

In response to a question asking what the mission of the remaining troops is, Master Sgt. Jeff Lowry, the public affairs officer with the Indiana National Guard, said in an email that the troops are “providing security, acting as the eyes and ears for civilian agencies.”

He said the Indiana Guardsmen in Washington are from the following units: the 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, the 81st Troop Command and the 219th Engineer Brigade. All three units are part of the Indiana Army National Guard.

They are “slated to return in mid-March timeframe,” Lowry said.

The ‘Task Force DC’ mission for the Indiana National Guard, which began Jan. 14 and ended Jan. 28, cost a total of almost $1.8 million, the Guard says. This included pay and allowance for members of the Indiana Army National Guard and Air National Guard and also $331,033 for military operations and maintenance.

This money, says Lowry, will be reimbursed with federal funds through the D.C. National Guard.

The Indiana National Guard, he says, is not able to provide an estimate of the total amount spent to date, or an estimate for the total mission, through mid-March.