Lt.-Col. Adam Tiffen has lived in the District of Columbia region for two decades and has never seen downtown Washington so empty. “The combination of people staying home due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the security procedures in place following the Capitol’s attack has almost closed the city down,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “I would say that the mood here is tense and is very reminiscent of the days immediately following 9/11.”
Tiffen is one of the thousands of National Guard troops deployed to the US capital in the lead-up to the inauguration after a mob rioted on January 6 and stormed the Capitol.
“For many of us, this wasn’t just an attack on our democratic institutions; it was also an attack on our friends, families and neighbors,” he said.
Tiffen holds a Juris Doctorate degree from the George Washington University Law School and a bachelor’s degree in international business from Thomas Jefferson University. He is a veteran of three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and an infantry officer in the Maryland Army National Guard.
“Within an hour of first hearing about the attack on the US Capitol, I received a call telling me that Maryland was mobilizing our unit,” he told the Post. “In some situations, for example, a natural disaster, we often can anticipate a call-up and begin to get ready days in advance.
“That wasn’t the case here, so soldiers suddenly dropped everything and prepared to deploy within a matter of hours. On the morning of the seventh, we began deploying into Washington, DC, and securing the Capitol.”
The call up was supposed to last a week, but hours after the mobilization, it was clear it would last longer, Tiffen said.
That was on January 6. His units were the first to arrive in the city, he said. At the time, most roads were open to the public, and residents were still going about their daily routines. However, there was a major ramp-up taking place in the security posture across the district.
The city went from feeling “normal” to completely different, Tiffen said.
“Authorities have installed miles of non-scalable fences,” he said. “Military and civilian forces have blocked roads and established checkpoints, and thousands of troops and civilian law enforcement have arrived to take up positions across the region.”
Tiffen, like people across the world, was shocked by the scenes on January 6.
“When I joined the military, I took an oath, as do all members of the US military,” he said. “The oath begins, ‘I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.’ The idea of a ‘domestic’ enemy – of our fellow Americans who seek to overthrow our government and destroy our way of life through terrorism and violence – is a hard reality to accept. It is a reality that I, like our nation, will have to come to terms with.”
Many of the soldiers in his unit live and work in Washington, Tiffen said, adding: “And while I can’t speak for everyone, I can tell you that our soldiers remain motivated and determined to do whatever we can to safeguard Washington, DC, and its residents, and ensure a peaceful transition of power to the incoming Biden-Harris administration.”
The Maryland Reaction Force of the Guard is trained to support civil authorities in maintaining crowd control and establishing checkpoints and using less-than-lethal capabilities and de-escalation techniques.
“This deployment isn’t the first time we have been called on to do this type of mission,” he said. “In 2015, we deployed to help local law enforcement secure the City of Baltimore following an outbreak of violent protests.
“I have served in the National Guard for 20 years, including three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have never seen anything like this deployment. Walking through the Capitol building and driving through Washington, DC, the presence of so many thousands of security forces, both civilian and military, is both alarming and reassuring. On the one hand, the fact that it is necessary is heartbreaking. On the other, it is reassuring that we can react so decisively in defense of our nation.”
This is a unique time in US history, Tiffen said. Interactions with civilians have been positive so far, he said, adding: “For the first few days, I could tell that many of the people passing by were surprised by our appearance. I can understand how shocking it might be to see armed National Guardsmen on the streets of Washington, DC. However, since we arrived, many people have gone out of their way to show their appreciation and regularly approach our soldiers to thank them or drop off hand warmers or hot coffee. The support of the local community is humbling.”
Soldiers are armed and are authorized to carry ammunition. They are equipped with civil-disturbance equipment as well. They have trained annually for these kinds of scenarios. Over the past week, many photos have circulated online of troops sleeping on floors throughout the Capitol, poignant reminders of the crisis and jarring images for America’s democracy.
“Many photos have gone viral of soldiers sleeping on the floor, and as a result, I have had several people reach out in concern,” Tiffen said. “I think it’s important to put those photos into context. When we first arrived, all of our soldiers were assigned hotel rooms. We try to rotate soldiers back to their hotels as often as possible. When you see photos of soldiers sleeping on the Capitol’s floor, it’s because they are generally on duty and are getting some rest between shifts.”
Tiffen and his men expect to remain in the capital for as long as it takes to secure the city and the inauguration this week.