What’s it like in D.C. today? A Harrisonburg police officer who’s part of the Va. National Guard gives us a glimpse

Members of the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, part of the Virginia National Guard that includes members from the Valley, stand in the U.S. Capitol. They are among the many National Guard members securing the nation’s capital for Wednesday’s inauguration. (Photo courtesy of the National Guard Public Affairs)

By Bridget Manley, publisher

More than 21,500 National Guard members are deployed across Washington, D.C., to provide security for today’s presidential inauguration of Joe Biden. Among their ranks is Harrisonburg Police Sgt. Scott Drugo, who is the Intelligence Officer & Gang Task Force supervisor. 

In the Virginia National Guard, Drugo holds the rank of major and serves as the public affairs officer for the 29th Infantry Division based out of Fort Belvoir in Northern Virginia. This March, he will have marked  22 years of service with the Virginia National Guard.

With the inauguration coming just two weeks after a failed insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Drugo spoke with The Citizen about the atmosphere in Washington, D.C., during this historic and tumultuous period. 

Have you ever gone to Washington, D.C., for an inauguration in this role?

Drugo: I have not. So as a police officer, we had maybe hinted around about getting in on the inaugurations. Pre-COVID, they used to have a rather lengthy parade. So we had talked about getting a civil disturbance team involved in that. We did some training in Fairfax, and they planted the seed. So we thought we’d try that. But never during an inauguration in either uniform, whether it be the Army or the police, have I been up here. 

When did you hear that you were going to be called up to Washington, D.C.? 

While he is Sgt. Scott Drugo on the police force, he is Maj. Scott Drugo in the Virginia National Guard.

That’s an interesting situation. Just last weekend — the weekend of the 9th I was at drill at Fort Belvoir. And of course, we had known everything that had gone on on the 6th here at the Capitol. So they said, well, nobody leaves on Sunday until we put this roster together, and we will go into D.C. sometime this week and help out. So I told him, naturally, put me on the roster. I’m more than  happy to help wherever. So Sunday evening, we got word that we had to be back at Belvoir on Monday evening. So, I had the 24-hour turn around and went home. [I] did some laundry, kissed the kids, you know, make sure everybody was happy and well-fed, and then turned around the next day. And I went to work on Monday morning, finished up some things and then told them, ‘I don’t know how long, but I got to go.’ So it was a quick turnaround. But the other folks here that I’m with had even a 12-hour turnaround. There are some folks out of Bedford — Lynchburg area — that got a 12-hour warning to pack your things. But one of the mottoes is in the National Guard is — if you see the symbol, it’s a guy with the colonial hat and he’s called the Minutemen, because back in the day, we were we were prepped to go within a minute. So grab your musket on the way out the door and engage in whatever mission you might be. So we’re not far from that right now. 

And so what are you specifically doing in these next couple of days? 

So my job as the public affairs officer is to is to do media inquiries, try to get folks in front of the camera, watch social media, things like that. So there’s a lot to entail here. It’s long days. And if I didn’t look at my watch, I wasn’t sure what day today was. I’ve been here a week, but I’m tracking what day it is. But it almost doesn’t matter now. As long as we got a job to do, we’re going to do it. Most of the folks that are here work a 12-hour shift. So they’re standing literally behind a fence or a gate for 12 hours. And then they put us in local hotels here. They take a bus back to the hotel and most of them will get more than eight hours of sleep. And then we get fed meals, so we’re here so we’re not hurting for anything. This is probably better than any two-week annual training that any National Guard guys would do where they sleep on the field and do things like that. So we’ve got roots. We’re relatively out of the elements. Unless you actually have a post outside, we’re getting fed. We have beds. So as far as the comforts of life, we’ve got it all. But we all have a mission to do. So we’re all focused on that mission, too, during the day or night if you’re working at night shift. 

Can you describe for me what D.C. currently looks like and feels like? And some have described it as looking like the Green Zone in Baghdad. 

It sure does. When I got here last week, I mean, traffic was reduced just because there were a few roadblocks. The hotel that we were in is maybe just under four miles away from we were, based out of the D.C. Armory for the first few days until we got everything situated — who was where and doing what. My job now entails me to be closer to the actual troops, which is the Capitol building. The first couple of days we functioned out of the D.C. Armory, we got all the badging, everybody certified, checked everybody’s medical records, health screenings, COVID screenings, got all that done. So now that I’m at the Capitol building, things are a little bit different. Back in D.C. Armory, I didn’t see much traffic except back and forth to the hotel. Traffic was reduced. That’s all I knew. But now getting back and forth from the armory to the Capitol building or from the Capitol building to the room, there are more roadblocks in the last five days because they’re kind of standing up more security. Around the Capitol building, they put an eight-foot fence around an inner perimeter and then there’s another fence outside of that. So there’s two checkpoints for anybody to get inside to the Capitol building and some other buildings around D.C., too. 

Members of the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, which includes members from the Valley, have been deployed across Washington, including in and around the Capitol. (Photo courtesy of the National Guard Public Affairs)

And who is authorized to come in the Capitol building

I think the only folks authorized to get in here are the employees thus far. Now, there’s some extra civilians running around today that have something to do with the inauguration. I think it’s they’re keeping a pretty tight security. And we’re here to assist the law enforcement officers. Those guys probably have more answers than I would about who’s allowed and who’s not. 

And what can you tell me about the morale of the National Guard right now? 

In the National Guard, typically, we work everything in the state as far as state active duty. So, if there is a hurricane or a snowstorm or flooding. That’s typically when the National Guard would get called out just to help the local folks. So this is a little bit unique that we’re not in Virginia. Two years ago, I did go to the U.S. Virgin Islands to help out with some hurricane relief. So that was exciting because I was outside the state lines. But being that that was all natural disaster stuff — that was old hat. This is totally new, and it’s a different role, because we are the eyes and ears for the local police departments and protecting the property and people that are here. So, it’s a different role than what you would usually play in this kind of thing. But I know morale is high, and I think that all boils down to the fact that everybody here is making a difference. Sometimes when you show up on a hurricane duty, you could run a chainsaw and cut some trees up or take a home to somebody to the hospital back and forth, a doctor that needs to get to work in a snowstorm. And that’s making a difference, too. But I think everybody here is taking more pride in the fact that we’re in the nation’s capital, and we’re all making a difference. But whether it be standing guard or pre-planning. It’s phenomenal, the amount of food and water and just things like that to sustain us is taking place. And there’s a lot of people out there planning and shipping and doing things like that. So for every person that’s on the line right now behind the fence, it takes two or three people to support them. 

What do you anticipate for Wednesday, what is the plan and what will you be doing to assist the police in D.C.? 

We are functioning right now is kind of the eyes and ears. Anything we see that might be out-of-place on the street — things like that, helping operate checkpoints. There are a few police officers mixed with some National Guard soldiers at all the checkpoints, the different places that have a fence. We’re basically acting as the police officers without the arresting powers and things like that. So it’s not like we just step in and take over. We’re just here to assist them. So we’re augmenting the local police, just being eyes and ears, basically. 

Do you feel that that the inauguration will be a safe event for those who are allowed to be there?

Yeah, I definitely think so. I think they’ve preplanned enough. And I know that politically there are different statements going different ways. But I think there’s enough preplanning here, and the fact that everybody is more than happy to have us and welcoming us. It’s unbelievable how the Capitol Police runs through the Capitol here all the time. And almost everywhere I go, they don’t pass by in the hallway without saying hello and thanking us for being here. So I know they’re more than grateful to have us. And I know that they have a lot of planning and things and they’re tracking and looking at what might be going on and who might be coming in, who should we look out for and things like that. So I know with all that prep work, I think it’ll be a smooth event. 

And have you talked to any Capitol police who were there on January 6th

I did. And not to sound silly or anything, but any time I run into one of them, I say, ‘Hey, we’re hiring in Harrisonburg.’ So I’m trying to recruit while I’m here. But I ran into a young gentleman, and he looked old enough that I would ask him for a hall pass if I was in the high school. But yeah, he said he said the 6th was his 10th day of work and he was involved with that. So, as a young officer at 22 I guess he was, I couldn’t imagine being thrown into the mix like that because that’s not something anybody would ever suspect running into in a career in law enforcement. 

How are they? How is their morale? 

Their morale is good. I think being that they’re working as much as we are, I think we’re all we have that camaraderie going … I asked one, “when’s the last time you had a day off?” He said, “it’s been a few weeks.” And then my next question, “well, when’s the next one? He said, “we’ll see how it goes.” So they’re aware. And, you know, it’s kind of a running joke with police departments that, you know, certain police departments have busy times. I know ours in Harrisonburg is when the college comes back. So August, September, we know not to plan any vacation. So I asked them, ‘Is this something they block off vacation? You can’t make any plans?’ One said, ‘Exactly.’ So it’s funny how we can work on that level, and that could kind of speak their language because I come from both lives. So, their morale is high. They’re super friendly. There’s a lot of them around. And I think they’re motivated to make this safe, too, so they could at least get a day off. 

Members of the National Guard have been working with Capitol and local police. Here, members of the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team are part of a planning session. (Photo courtesy of the National Guard Public Affairs)

Should the general public stay home, or is there any way to be in person at the inauguration Wednesday? 

I would suggest not. If there’s something you can watch online, that’s the way to do it. Because if nothing else, you’re going to get stuck in a car. And I know they’re closing the bridges from Virginia into D.C. and there’s a lot of traffic problems about to happen. So you’re just going to get stuck in traffic somewhere to get to D.C. And I don’t think there’s going to be much to see just because there’s so many cordoned off sections. You’re not going to see anything interesting anyway. But if you go watch it from home, that’s probably the way to do it. 

When do you anticipate being home?

It’s kind of a two-fold thing.  We’re here to be the protection of property and people. And then we’re still dealing with COVID, so we can’t forget about that. Mitigation wise, everybody’s running around with a mask. All day, seeing people in uniforms in a mask, the police officers, everybody’s masked up. And, you know, even if you’re sleeping kind of close quarters with somebody in the hallways, like on break time, I mean, it’s pretty smart to keep a mask on there, too. So after this, there might be some health screenings. We will have to go through a COVID test before we get released, because if you can imagine, there are 50 states of National Guard members here, and we’re all kind of crammed in one place. This would be the perfect thing for an outbreak. But everybody is going through as many precautions as we can. And there’s a few tests we got as soon as we hit the ground. And we’ll probably get another test before we go home because nobody wants to take this and spread it to their family, for sure. 

Excellent point. Is there anything that I’m not asking that you want to include? 

Everybody’s happy to be here. Everybody’s motivated. Everybody is excited because this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Everything is great, we’re getting fed, we’re getting naps, we’re getting sleep. So as far as, training wise, everything’s good. Most of these folks have been through some kind of training like this in the National Guard. Commonly, it’s a yearly thing to work a crowd control type of scenario because some of the National Guard will augment local police departments. I know a lot of folks here were in Richmond. You know, the last time they had some things over the summer. And then, you know, as a police officer, we had some issues there in Harrisonburg, too. So everybody brings that knowledge. The best thing about the National Guard is everybody has a job back home that they could bring that knowledge and perform it in the National Guard. So it’s kind of a unique situation. The active duty doesn’t really have that. Sure, they train, and they meet every day, but we bring that unique background and jobs or education into the mix and we use that to our benefit. 

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