National Guard members began leaving Washington D.C. on Saturday as angered governors recall troops amid controversy over the conditions they suffered while protecting the U.S. Capitol during Joe Biden's inauguration.
There were 25,000 troops stationed in D.C. on Wednesday amid fears of a repeat of the violence seen on January 6 when a MAGA mob stormed federal building.
Up to 7,000 service members are expected to remain in the Capitol until February 6 as concerns remain that Biden's first State of the Union address will be targeted that week.
Of those, 5,000 troops are predicted to stay until mid-March, Guard spokesperson Maj. Matthew Murphy told Politico.
Yet at least eight governors, including Florida's Ron DeSantis and Chris Sununu in New Hampshire, have already pulled back troops, angered at their treatment.
Both appeared on Fox News to slam the decision to keep the troops in D.C. after service members were seen sleeping in a freezing parking lot on their breaks, and it emerged that up to 200 members deployed there have since tested positive for COVID-19.
The Guard said that Capitol Police had ordered the troops to leave the Capitol building and take their rest breaks in a nearby designated parking lot instead of the federal building.
Photos showed up to 5,000 Guardsmen sleeping on the floor of the packed Thurgood Marshall Building parking lot and in a park outside as temperatures hit a low of 40 degrees.
DeSantis blasted it as a 'half-cocked mission', claiming they were soldiers not 'servants', while Sununu said that the treatment of the troops was 'demeaning' and 'disrespectful'.
Scroll down for video
At least eight governors, including Florida's Ron DeSantis and Chris Sununu in New Hampshire, have already pulled back troops, angered at their treatment. They both appeared on Fox News this week to voice their disgust
Members of the National Guard listen during a U.S. Capitol tour on Saturday as they prepare for a longer stay
Members of the National Guard march on the East Front of the US Capitol in Washington as troops begin to leave
'They're not Nancy Pelosi's servants,' fumed DeSantis as he appeared on Fox & Friends on Friday morning.
'They're soldiers. They've served our country all over the world. They've served our state after natural disasters. They're serving right now, helping with vaccinating senior citizens and they've been on the front lines of the COVID fight.'
The Florida governor also took issue with reports that members were vetted ahead of the inauguration amid fears that the event could be targeted by a person on the inside. There were 12 troops dismissed as a result.
'And this comes on the back end of them trying to investigate the backgrounds of our Guardsmen,' DeSantis added.
'Florida, we did not let them go into their political beliefs. I thought that was totally inappropriate. I thought it was very disrespectful for people who are clearly patriots. So, this is a half-cocked mission at this point, and I think the appropriate thing is to bring them home.'
DeSantis was backed by Texas Governor Greg Abbot who had sent 1,000 troops for the inauguration but vowed in a tweet that he would never do so again.
'This is the most offensive thing I've ever heard,' Abbott tweeted Monday.
'No one should ever question the loyalty or professionalism of the Texas National Guard. I authorized more than 1,000 to go to DC. I'll never do it again if they are disrespected like this.'
DeSantis and Abbot were joining in calling troops home by the governors of New Hampshire, Montana, Alaska, Massachusetts, Arizona, and Tennessee.
Tennessee's Governor Bill Lee said he was 'very disappointed in the way this mission came to a close & the overall treatment of the National Guard in DC'.
'We are bringing home our National Guard members from D.C. They served with distinction,' said Alaska's Governor Mike Dunleavy. 'Some guardsmen from other states were treated in a fashion inconsistent with how our service members should be treated.'
Troops were given a tour of the U.S. Capitol on Saturday as they settled down for a longer stay in D.C.
Up to 7,000 troops are remaining until February 6. Pictured, troops on a tour of the Capitol
Some 5,000 troops are expected to remain in D.C. until March. Pictured, service members enjoy a Capitol tour
Capitol tours had been restricted since March 13, 2020, but have exclusively been reopened for National Guard members
A tour guide gives more information to a National Guard member on a tour of the Capitol
The government has been criticized for its treatment of National Guard members during Inauguration week
'These women and men put their lives on the line for our freedom — that they would be put out to a parking garage in return is appalling,' tweeted Arizona's Doug Ducey as he shared an image of the National Guard troops in the controversial sleeping arrangements.
It showed 5,000 troops in a garage without internet and one bathroom with two stalls between them with chilly nighttime temperatures and caused uproar when shared earlier this week.
A string of governors revealed their disgust on social media over the troops' treatment
'I've confirmed that none of our 29 @AZNationalGuard members were among those displaced. They are headed back to AZ. Thank you for your service!' Ducey added.
'With their mission complete, I have instructed Adjutant General Hronek to bring our @GuardMontana soldiers home,' wrote Montana's Gregg Gianafort.
'I've ordered the immediate return of all New Hampshire National Guard from Washington DC,' Sununu also announced.
'They did an outstanding job serving our nation's capital in a time of strife and should be graciously praised, not subject to substandard conditions.'
He also appeared on Fox & Friends on Saturday morning when he raged against the conditions faced by his troops while they were in D.C.
'They don't complain but it's my job to really protect the team and make sure they are not put into those substandard conditions, so we pulled them out,' Sununu said.
'If there's another call, there's another mission we're always going to be there, absolutely. But I just needed to make sure we weren't being part of a broken system.'
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer also called the situation an 'outrage' as he pledged that it would never happen again.
Of the 7,000 troops scheduled to stay in D.C. until February, 5,000 are predicted to remain there until at least March, staying on guard in case of unrest around Donald Trump's second impeachment trial.
Many are staying on a voluntary basis but several groups or being forced to remain, according to Politico.
Shocking pictures showed up to 5,000 Guardsmen sleeping on the floor of a packed parking garage Thursday, above
Insiders described a failure by the National Guard to implement coronavirus testing and social distancing protocols evenly across the board. Pictured up to 5,000 troops in the garage Thursday, a scene with caused outrage among governors
National Guard soldiers sleep inside the Capitol Visitors Center of the US Capitol on Friday
National Guard outside of the U.S. Capitol as they begin to leave Washington, D.C. after Inauguration Day
One guard member whose group is involuntarily staying at the Capitol told the publication that morale was already low due to the long hours and poor conditions but is plummeting further, especially as many of the citizen-soldiers want to be at home with their families during the pandemic.
'The treatment we've received lately and the Covid symptoms we face are taking their toll. Especially as it becomes clear to us that we are no longer wanted,' the person said.
Residents had already voiced concerns about the influx of thousands of troops and the dangers it could pose to residents in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
D.C. residents had already voiced concerns about the influx of thousands of troops and the dangers it could pose to residents in light of the coronavirus pandemic
'Are the thousands and thousands of national guard members practicing safe social distancing in DC? Wearing a mask or two? Were they all tested before arriving? Are they sanitizing the tanks, weapons, ammo, etc? Asking for a friend,' asked resident Kelly Dyer on social media
'@NationalGuard in DC not wearing masks should be ashamed! When I asked a group on MA Ave NW 'you don't wear masks?' They laughed and said 'No.' Our mayor @MurielBowser stresses the importance of mask wearing yet only some are wearing them. They should be doing their job safely,' echoed fellow resident Ella McBride.
Their fears were founded this week as at least 200 National Guard members who had been deployed to D.C. for the inauguration have now tested positive.
The National Guard did not immediately confirm how many troops contracted the virus but maintained health guidelines were followed.
'When National Guard members departed from their individual states and upon arrival to the DC Armory, they had their temperatures checked and completed a screening questionnaire. Masks and social distancing are required where the mission allows,' a spokesperson told The Hill.
'They are following these procedures daily.'
The departure of the National Guard will allow some D.C. residents to breath a sigh of relief.
'Today, there was a sense of calm,' Capitol Hill resident Nagesh Rao said told WUSA 9 as they began to leave. 'I definitely feel relieved.'
While he appreciated that the troops were there to keep residents safe, he said it was hard to navigate around the closures.