MELROSE — More than a hundred Massachusetts National Guard members stood Saturday morning inside a Melrose armory and listened to their commander apologize for the mission before them.
“I’m sorry that we’ve gotten to a point here in this nation this year that I have to ask you to go down and be away from your families to do this,” said Major General Gary W. Keefe, adjutant general of the state force.
A short time later, the troops boarded chartered buses bound for Washington, D.C., where they will help protect the city as President-elect Joe Biden prepares to be sworn into office on Wednesday.
The soldiers are among about 500 Massachusetts National Guard members activated Thursday by Governor Charlie Baker to provide security at the inauguration following the deadly attack on the US Capitol on Jan. 6 by a mob of President Trump’s supporters. The soldiers departed Saturday from different locations across the state. Nationwide, about 26,000 National Guard soldiers are being deployed to Washington, D.C., Keefe said.
Baker also activated another 500 National Guard members to assist state and local law enforcement officers inside Massachusetts in case their help is needed in the coming days to maintain order. While the FBI has warned of possible unrest over Biden’s inauguration in all 50 state capitals, Baker has said the state is not aware of any specific threats to Massachusetts.
The Massachusetts soldiers’ primary mission in Washington, D.C., will be to protect the House of Representatives, which was breached by rioters during the siege, resulting in a Capitol police officer fatally shooting a Trump supporter near the Speaker’s Lobby. Hours after the riot , Congress reconvened and certified Biden’s election.
Among the legislators who voted for impeachment was US Representative Katherine Clark, a Melrose Democrat. On Saturday, she addressed the Massachusetts soldiers who will help protect her and her colleagues in Washington, D.C.
“Your mission could not be higher,” Clark told them. “Democracies are not self-executing and all of you are stepping forward to say that we believe in these common principles enshrined in our constitution.”
The soldiers include members of the 182nd Infantry Regiment, the nation’s oldest active military organization. The unit was organized in 1636 and participated in the Battle of Lexington in 1775.
“You are history come to life,” Clark said. “From Lexington and Concord to today, where we are facing a democracy in the balance and you are stepping forward for what could be a difficult journey and task for all of you.”
Melrose Mayor Paul Brodeur also addressed the soldiers.
“You all are going down to do something that I suspect you didn’t imagine you would be doing when you signed up: being deployed to Washington, D.C., to defend the constitution,” he said.
The soldiers are expected to spend about a week in Washington, D.C., where their duties at the House of Representatives will include traffic control, staffing entry control points, and patrolling the grounds, an official said.
The soldiers are bringing firearms and ammunition, but Keefe said National Guard officials in the city ultimately will decide whether the Massachusetts units will be armed. Weapons not being used will be secured in a locked vault.
“Everyone has been told to bring your weapon,” Keefe said.
The Massachusetts National Guard has been tapped for a range of high-profile missions since last March, including helping the state respond to the coronavirus pandemic and providing protection in Boston and Brockton, where violence broke out during demonstrations against police brutality following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
House lawmakers voted
In the early hours of following morning, Congress reconvened and certified
by a mob of Trump supporters, some of whom ransacked the office of