Spec. Bodie Stowers is like thousands of other young men in the National Guard. He’s twenty years old and spends two weekends a month and two weeks a year selflessly serving our nation. He takes offense to the term “weekend warrior,” a pejorative term often used to describe Guardsmen because they’re not all gung-ho twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
“We’re still doing more than most,” he tells me, his voice a tremulous whisper, as we communicate over Zoom. “Not supposed to chat with the media, you know.”
His bloodshot blue eyes confirm his next statement—he has hardly slept since arriving in
D.C. four days ago. Four or, if he’s lucky, five hours a night, he tells me. He and the unit to which he is assigned have been resting on rigid foam mats strewn about the hallways of the Capitol building. Others are bivouacked in tents near the National Mall, its perimeter surrounded by rows of flexible concertina wire and eight-to-twelve-foot-high fences the Army Corps. of Engineers erected to isolate much of D.C. from the rest of the world.
Spec. Stowers covertly pans his camera to the left, giving me a view of about 30 soldiers trying to catch some sleep on the floor. Some are stretched out atop sleeping bags, while others are just laying on cold marble. He tells me he must be careful because he is not supposed to speak to media or express political bias while in uniform. He has asked me to safeguard his identity and that of his unit, fearing that an overzealous noncom or, worse, junior officer, will Article-15 or, again worse, general court martial “my ass.” As we speak, he tugs at the uncomfortable black mask covering his nose and mouth.
“We’re supposed to sleep in these damn things,” he tells me in a hushed voice. “Depending on who’s around, we can sometimes slide them down for a bit. At night we’ve been sleeping on our stomachs so anyone walking by can’t really tell if we got the mask below our nose or mouth,” he says.
He describes one persnickety 2nd lieutenant whose mannerisms seem eerily similar to the tyrannical Captain Sobel from the television show Band of Brothers. “The guy’s a real dick, just like his TV counterpart,” Spec. Stowers says. “He will use a ruler to measure the gap between your mask and your skin. God forbid he catches anyone expressing an opinion on the election results.”
Spec. Stowers identifies as a conservative Republican. He voted for Trump, saying he admires Trump’s policies but not so much his demeanor. His entire family, he says, votes Republican, and both his father and grandfather served in the Armed Forces.
Spec. Stowers is in only the third year of an eight-year contract. His MOS, or military occupational specialty is 91B, wheeled vehicle mechanic, meaning he is trained to fix Humvees–not suppress an armed insurrection on the Capitol. He has traded his wrench for a rifle, and live ammunition. He says there is a palpable and growing fear among Guardsmen that, despite the overwhelming security presence and towering security fences, a battle may be inevitable. What’s worse, some Senior NCOs—and possibly officers—are split on whether to abide in the decision of the Electoral College or defend Trump’s presidency at all costs. At least two staff sergeants and a First Sergeant, he tells me, have quietly discussed joining a coup against Biden, if one surfaces, while others, in fact a majority, voice support for Biden and even seem enthusiastic about shutting down people who oppose his presidency.
As I watch Spec. Stowers on Zoom, he glances about nervously, then tells me he is saying more than he should—he wants to survive his National Guard contract. He wants the peril to be over so he can return to his civilian job and his girlfriend.
I press him a bit more on the rift.
“See those guys over there?” He angles the camera toward the corridor leading to the Senate floor. The scene seems jarringly disconnected from the image he showed me of a few dozen Guardsmen camped on the floor. Now I see what looks like an armed encampment—150 or so Guardsmen mulling about or sitting against a wall with knees drawn up against their chests, cradling their rifles. “Most of those guys there,” Spec. Stowers continues, “are diehard Trump supporters. They’ve taken to using hand signals to talk about it, since, like I said, we aren’t supposed to show any favor—just follow orders. If something happens, I don’t believe everyone here is gonna be on the same side, and that scares me. You know what I mean?”
What frightens him most, he says in closing, is that he does not know which side, if any, he would choose.
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