New Mexico National Guard members with Rio Rancho ties protected the U.S. Capitol building during the presidential inauguration in January.
About 200 people from around New Mexico went to Washington, D.C., to provide security after the Jan. 6 riot, said Task Force Capital Response/Presidential Inauguration 59 commander Lt. Col. Gabriel Vargas, a Rio Rancho native and commander of the 226th Military Police Battalion.
“We have a great group of individuals in the state of New Mexico,” he said. “I’m very proud of what they’ve done. Just answering the call shows they’re willing to be on the forefront of securing our cities.”
He said the riot at the Capitol had a global impact, and soldiers defend the American way, even if they don’t like what some Americans do.
The Bravo Company 1-200th Infantry Battalion and 919th Military Police Company based in Rio Rancho and Albuquerque, the 226th Military Police Battalion from Farmington and the 126th Military Police Company of Albuquerque represented the New Mexico Army National Guard. The New Mexico Air National Guard sent members of the 150th Security Forces Squadron from Kirtland Air Force Base.
Many of the troops had never even flown before, Vargas said.
They were among 25,000 Guard members from all 50 states. For about five days, the New Mexico troops worked from 3 p.m. to 3 a.m., providing security on the southwest corner of the Capitol, where rioters climbed over the wall Jan. 6.
“So it was very vivid in a lot of their minds,” Vargas said.
He said some of the troops were carrying operational ammunition and defending an area outside of training for the first time.
U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico came out to greet the state’s soldiers and airmen one day, and provided tours of the Capitol to all of them at the end of the mission.
The New Mexico units only had a few people come down the COVID-19 during the mission, although other states’ contingents were decimated by it, Vargas said.
If New Mexicans showed symptoms, they were quarantined until medically cleared to return to duty. They were required to wear masks, socially distance when possible and stay in individual hotel rooms.
The New Mexico contingent stayed in nice hotels and ate well, Vargas said. After the mission, Vargas said, New Mexico troops had 36 hours to rest and sightsee in Washington.
“For a lot of these soldiers, that meant a lot for them,” he said.
A small group of soldiers remained in D.C. as part of the 5,000-7,000 Guard troops federal government representatives wanted to stay through spring.
“New Mexicans should be proud of their soldiers going out there,” Vargas said.