Commanding general of D.C. National Guard to be removed from post
The U.S. Army general who heads the D.C. National Guard and is an integral part of overseeing the inauguration said Friday he has been ordered removed from command effective Jan. 20, 12:01 p.m., just as Donald Trump is sworn in as president.
Maj. Gen. Errol R. Schwartz’s departure will come in the midst of the presidential ceremony, classified as a national special security event — and while thousands of his troops are deployed to help protect the nation’s capital during an inauguration he has spent months helping to plan.
“The timing is extremely unusual,” Schwartz said in an interview Friday morning, confirming a memo announcing his ouster that was obtained by The Washington Post. During the inauguration, Schwartz would command not only the members of the D.C. guard but also an additional 5,000 unarmed troops sent in from across the country to help. He also would oversee military air support protecting the nation’s capital during the inauguration.
“My troops will be on the street,” Schwartz, who turned 65 in October, said, “I’ll see them off but I won’t be able to welcome them back to the armory.” He said that he would “never plan to leave a mission in the middle of a battle.”
Schwartz, who was appointed to head the guard by President George W. Bush in 2008, maintained the position through President Obama’s two terms. He said his orders came from the Pentagon but that he doesn’t know who made the decision. It is unclear whether he is part of a larger class of federal workers who have been asked to leave their jobs as a new president takes office.
The Army and officials with Trump’s transition team did not immediately respond for comment.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) blasted the decision to remove Schwartz, especially on Inauguration Day.
“It doesn’t make sense to can the general in the middle of an active deployment,” Mendelson said. He added that Schwartz’s sudden departure would be a long-term loss for the District. “He’s been really very good at working with the community and my impression was that he was good for the Guard.”
Unlike in states, where the governor appoints the National Guard commander, in the District that duty falls to the president.
Schwartz said that he has not been told why he was asked to step down. “I’m a soldier,” he said, noting that he was following orders and has no regrets. “I’m a presidential appointee, therefore the president has the power to remove me.”
Like other deployments, Inauguration Day will be a complicated one for the D.C. National Guard – at least on paper. Since the District is not a state, its mayor cannot call up Guard members to active duty as a state governor can.
The District must send a letter to the Secretary of the Army requesting the support. The District and the Army must then go through a seven-step process to initiate the deployment, during which Guard members carry out duties at the request of the mayor and city homeland security officials.
The two entities have been able to work together to make that happen quickly in response to unfolding natural disasters, such as last year’s record January snow fall. During that storm, which dumped 22 inches of snow, the Guard was activated in anticipation of the storm’s arrival, and troops helped shuttle officials, plow drivers and supplies back-and-forth across the city.
Schwartz began his military career in 1976 by enlisting in the guard, formally called the Militia of the District of Columbia National Guard. He also oversees the Air National Guard, which combined with the Army guard has an authorized strength of 2,700. He has served in several leadership positions, including commanding the 372nd Military Police Battalion.
He graduated in 1980 from the University of the District of Columbia with a degree in electrical engineering and earned master’s degrees in business management from Central Michigan University and in national security strategy from the National Defense University at Fort McNair, Washington.
Schwartz said that he is most proud of the Youth Challenge Academy, a school for teenage dropouts run by the guard with an infusion of federal money that is separate from both D.C. public and charter schools. It is located at the former Oak Hill facility, the District’s old juvenile jail. He said that about 60 percent of the school’s student body have obtained high school diplomas, and some have gone on to college.
“These are kids with high potential,” Schwartz said. “They just need to be steered a little bit. That’s what guardsmen can do.” He said he has already told his wife that even while retired, he might stay active in the school.
“I don’t mind walking the halls and knocking on doors wearing a suit and tie,” he said.