Call me naïve, but I never imagined a time in America when ordinary citizens would tear apart our foundation of democracy.

So it was sad and difficult to watch angry mobs of fellow Americans attempt to bring down our government by storming the Capitol building in Washington.

Masked protesters roamed the halls of Congress, occupying the House and Senate chambers and ransacking offices of representatives. 

The spectacle on TV was both scarily absorbing and sobering. Angry mobs of vigilantes attempted to bring down a government they deemed radicalized by liberal politics.

Our nation’s sacred building, our center of democracy, was sacked and attacked by armed protesters hell bent on major destruction and disturbance, a sight we normally see in third-world banana republics.

It is difficult to believe that something like politics could tear our nation apart and leave its very symbol of freedom damaged and in disarray. But, regardless, here we are. 

National Guardsmen, who are trained in riot protection and defense, were called out too late to join police in the Capitol building to fight back against the invaders. 

By the time the National Guard arrived later in the day, much of the damage to the Capitol had occurred. Nevertheless, the Guard protected the building from future assaults. When the Guard arrived, the protesters at the scene scattered.

Fortunately, then as well as now, we have the National Guard at the service of democracy. The riots this past year in major cities across the country and what is happening now in our nation’s capital bear out the importance of having ready-to-go, citizen-soldiers maintain civic order.

Once the guard puts boots on the ground, the riots quickly diminish. The Guard presents a force larger than the protesters. We were often told the role and mission of the National Guard is to protect and defend the homeland. Now we know how real their mission is. Our Guard did their job in Washington. 

Plans are now for more than 25,000 of these civilian soldiers to be on duty in Washington again during the inauguration of Joe Biden as president. That is a show-of-force bound to catch the eye of any potential trouble-maker. States also are placing local Guardsmen in positions to block or halt disruptions at state capitols across the nation.

This is the mission our National Guard is trained to do: protect and defend the homeland; defend America against all its enemies, foreign and domestic; and to assist states and local communities in their recovery from natural disasters.

I cannot be more proud of our citizen soldiers. Amid all that ugly struggle on the TV screen, I came to appreciate our National Guard men and women even more.

The spectacle I watched with you was difficult to sit through. We witnessed fellow Americans out to damage our Capitol building and harm lawmakers over the results of Donald Trump losing an election where he was his worst opponent.

There was a time, not too long ago, when we took the National Guard for granted. The guard was viewed as an alternative kind of military service composed of draft-dodgers and slackers. 

Thank God we do not think that way anymore. Our opinion of the Guard has changed four-fold. They are now our heroes. Esteem and admiration for our Guard members today is at an all-time high.

Looking back, our Guard members were there in fighting mode during the time of Desert Storm and Desert Shield and the War on Terror in the Middle East. Units from towns across the nation were deployed for duty, with the task of taking on major roles in the battles and fighting.

Guardsmen have shown time and again their ability to defend America and its institutions from any threats or actions anywhere in the world. They have done so from World War I down to today. 

Regarding homeland disasters, Guard members are on the scene shortly after first-responders. They rush in to help rescue the trapped, mend the injured and protect property. Today, the Guard is considered our front-line force to preserve and protect the nation from within. 

The Guard will be on guard at our state capitols throughout the nation this week to protect them from the false notion that destruction reinforces personal rights or beliefs. The Guard now joins the police in standing at the very center of civility against mob rule and mob violence.

Historically, the Guard has been around since the founding of the United States. They were the minutemen with muskets who fought off the British invaders. They guarded the homes of the founding fathers as they plotted the path forward to a new nation. They mustered from states across the U.S. to fight the major battles of World War I. 

Closer to home, the Guard was called out to protect the citizens and property of nearby Phenix City after the assassination of Albert Patterson in 1954. For almost a year, the guard, under Maj. Gen. “Crack” Hannah, led the city and county governments on the road back to legality and responsibility.

Patterson was elected attorney general of Alabama. He ran on a platform to take back Phenix City from the corrupt hands of politicians and gangsters. He didn’t live to see it, but the Alabama National Guard brought law and order back to the corrupt town.

So, where would we be without the National Guard? In a far worse place, where gangsters, crooked politicians, mob rule, strongmen and violence would feel right at home.

Ralph Morris is a retired newspaperman who lives near Auburn. His email address is r.morris@ctvea.net.

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