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Ohio Guard provides support for communities, law enforcement during protests

Cpl. James Target, an Ohio Army National Guard military police team leader, stands guard during ongoing protests May 31, 2020, in downtown Columbus, Ohio. Gov. Mike DeWine activated the Ohio National Guard to assist local law enforcement in Columbus and Cleveland with providing safety and protection to the community, while ensuring people’s right to gather and demonstrate peacefully.

Cpl. James Target, an Ohio Army National Guard military police team leader, stands guard during ongoing protests May 31, 2020, in downtown Columbus, Ohio. Gov. Mike DeWine activated the Ohio National Guard to assist local law enforcement in Columbus and Cleveland with providing safety and protection to the community, while ensuring people’s right to gather and demonstrate peacefully.

COLUMBUS, OH -- Approximately 1,200 Ohio National Guard members were activated at the end of May for nearly two weeks during Operation Guardian Serenity III, to assist local law enforcement with site security, traffic control points and protecting critical infrastructure in Columbus and Cleveland.

The Guard members formed the National Guard Response Force to assist law enforcement after some civil disturbances occurred during the early days of ongoing protests that swept across the nation.

“The Ohio National Guard responded at a moment’s notice to assist with protecting lives and property,” said Gov. Mike DeWine. “I’m proud of the role our Guard members had in providing a safe environment for Ohioans to voice their concerns and lawfully exercise their First Amendment rights.”

There was initially some confusion among protesters regarding the mission. Guard members interviewed while the mission was still underway said they spent a lot of time interacting with citizens participating in the protests, explaining the role of the National Guard in supporting the community.

“A lot of people don’t understand what we’re doing out here,” said Tech. Sgt. Steven Snyder, a security forces specialist assigned to the Ohio National Guard’s 178th Wing, during the operation. “We’re not trying to impede on anyone's rights, we’re just trying to keep people safe.”

Tech. Sgt. Seth Dale, a security forces specialist assigned to the 178th Wing also interviewed while the mission was still ongoing, agreed: “A lot of people don’t understand the mission we’re out here for. We’ve been talking to people, trying to bridge that understanding gap, and let people know we’re here for them; and that’s helped mitigate a lot of the apprehensions that they have,” he said.

Dale said they worked to build positive and personal relationships with the people they encountered while manning traffic control points and protecting critical infrastructure locations, such as the city’s electrical grid. He said that most of the interactions he had with protesters and residents of Columbus were positive.

Many of the Airmen and Soldiers said they were proud to have the opportunity to serve their community and help keep their fellow Ohioans safe.

“I enjoy any time I get to serve the state of Ohio and help everyone stay safe, and getting to serve (the police) and the protesters equally; and getting to ensure that everyone who’s out here, no matter what their role, is safe,” said Senior Airman Kristin Harmon, a security forces specialist assigned to the 178th Wing. “When we’re manning traffic control points and we’re out with CPD (Columbus Police Department), we’re serving as their backbone; making sure they’re safe, making sure the protesters are safe and ensuring that everything stays peaceful.”

In addition to the security forces personnel supporting Operation Guardian Serenity III, there were medical personnel assigned to provide care and assistance to anyone who might sustain and injury during the mission, whether that was a Guard member, a police officer or a protester.

“The people that we’re serving are our friends, neighbors, coworkers; and we just get to serve them in a different capacity now than we do in our normal day-to-day jobs,” Dale said.

As Operation Guardian Serenity III came to a close in mid-June, the Guard members returned to their home bases knowing they’d successfully balanced protecting both people and property, while ensuring their fellow Ohioans could peacefully and safely exercise their First Amendment rights.

“I commend the outstanding work performed by the men and women who were assigned to this mission,” said Maj. Gen. John C. Harris Jr., Ohio adjutant general. “They carried out their duties to assist law enforcement authorities with professionalism and respect for every citizen.”

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