Michigan National Guard
Story by Capt. Joe Legros
WASHINGTON – Soldiers with the 460th Chemical Company, Michigan Army National Guard, based in Fort Custer, Michigan, normally focus on chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) threats. However, some members of the units were recently called upon to support security efforts and protect key infrastructure in Washington, D.C.
Their primary area of responsibility is near the U.S. Capitol building, with the goal of protecting lives, ensuring the security of critical Washington infrastructure and upholding the rule of law.
“We protect the perimeter of the Capitol grounds,” said Sgt. Brandon LaFrance, team leader with the 460th Chem Co. “Our work shift is flexible but there is always coverage of the area 24 hours per day.”
LaFrance lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with his wife and works for Mel Trotter Ministries, a local non-profit focused on ending homelessness. He has spent all nine years of his military service with the 460th Chem Co.
This is not his first time working together with military police.
“For several years, our unit has been tasked with a CBRN response mission,” said LaFrance. “We trained together with military police and engineers and could not have accomplished the mission without them.”
Along with MP and engineer units, the 460th Chem Co. has teamed with hazardous material responders, firefighters and local law enforcement to provide decontamination support in the event of a CBRN incident.
As with the CBRN response mission, National Guard MPs, engineers and chemical Soldiers are providing defense support to civilian authorities in Washington. However, this mission is different for LaFrance.
“Our chemical company is the lead organization during CBRN missions,” said LaFrance. “We conduct multiple training events throughout the year to bring our military police and engineer colleagues up to speed on how to respond to CBRN threats.”
This time, the roles are reversed.
LaFrance explained how the Michigan military police trained his chemical team, as well as engineers, in security operations and civil disturbance control.No matter the mission, LaFrance shared how military leaders have taught him the importance of relating to others and caring for their needs. He uses this experience in his military and civilian life.
“My favorite thing about the military is how it has given me a sense of belonging,” shared LaFrance. “Having a common ground with people from all different backgrounds makes it feel like I’m part of an all-inclusive family.”
LaFrance and his team of chemical response Soldiers arrived in Washington just a few days ago; however, the city has already made a positive, lasting impression.
“I will never forget that first walk up to the U.S. Capitol building,” said LaFrance. “I was completely taken aback by how small it made me feel. Walking around the National Mall is an experience I will treasure forever.”
Several district-area attractions such as the U.S. Capitol building and Supreme Court offered free guided tours to National Guard men and women stationed here. However, Soldiers have maintained their focus on the mission.
“Our Soldiers are professionals and are doing an exceptional job protecting our Nation’s Capital,” said Col. Chris McKinney, commander of both the 177th Military Police Brigade and Joint Task Force Independence. “For some of our men and women, this is their first time visiting Washington.”
“Our hope is that future generations will continue to enjoy our nation’s capital.”
JTF Independence is a combined, joint military effort to provide security for key buildings around Washington, D.C. and McKinney oversees all military personnel assigned to the Capitol Response mission. This includes thousands of service members from both the Army and Air National Guard from 20 states and territories.
“I've met my fondest friends and best mentors in the military,” said LaFrance. “Yes, we travel to some great places, but it’s a lot of hard work.”
“But in the end, it will be worth it,” he added.
Following the 59th Presidential Inauguration, the National Guard has been requested to continue supporting district and federal law enforcement agencies with security, communications, medical evacuation, logistics, and safety support through mid-March.