The nominee to lead the National Guard Bureau sidestepped questions Thursday on the alleged use of helicopters to disperse protesters in Washington, D.C., but stressed the Guard’s growing mission to de-escalate violence by backing up local law enforcement.
“Given the magnitude of recent domestic events, I anticipate a larger role for the National Guard in supporting civil authorities in the homeland,” Army Lt. Gen. Daniel Hokanson said at his Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing.
Hokanson said he also foresaw a “potential increased role for me, if confirmed, in the interagency in planning for and reacting to events in the homeland.”
As Hokanson was testifying, police in Tulsa, Oklahoma announced that about 250 members of the Oklahoma National Guard had been activated to assist in maintaining order during President Donald Trump’s Saturday campaign rally there.
Senators did not express any opposition to Hokanson’s nomination, and he is expected to receive quick approval from the full Senate to get four-star rank and succeed retiring Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel as chief of the National Guard Bureau and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
However, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., questioned Hokanson closely on the Guard’s response to the protests in Washington, D.C., over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis..
Warren referred to a June 1 incident in which Guard members backed up police as they forcibly cleared Lafayette Square near the White House of peaceful protesters to allow President Donald Trump to pass through for a photo op.
Later that night, two helicopters from the District of Columbia National Guard flew low over a remaining crowd of protesters in Chinatown.
“This tactic blew debris everywhere, it kicked up dirt, it snapped trees,” Warren said. “How would you ensure that guardsmen clearly understand the type of orders under which they have been activated and the activities that are within the scope of their mission?”
Hokanson, a former vice chief of U.S. Northern Command and a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, did not reply directly to the use of helicopters, which was the subject of a recently completed investigation, but said the Guard’s purpose in situations of civil unrest was to de-escalate confrontations.
“We rely heavily on our state adjutant generals to make sure that they are properly trained and equipped for what they are asked to do, and one of those includes de-escalatory measures,” Hokanson said.
He noted that about 43,000 Guard members were activated in 34 states at the height of the protests earlier this month, and that number had been reduced to about 4,000. “I think that shows the ability for us to help de-escalate the situations,” he said.
“Senator, my pledge to you is that we will always operate in accordance with laws and policies and frankly, the expectations of our citizens,” Hokanson said.
Warren also pressed him on whether he agreed with the June 3 statements of Lengyel, who said, “I am sickened by the death of George Floyd.”
“If we are to fulfill our obligation as service members, as Americans, and as decent human beings, we have to take our oath seriously,” Lengyel said in Twitter posts. “We cannot tolerate racism, discrimination or casual violence.”
Hokanson said he agreed with Lengyel’s comments.
“If confirmed I will follow the same,” he said.
— Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.
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