‘Lack of Clear Guidance’ in Helicopter Incident

An investigation into how the District of Columbia National Guard employed a helicopter in the nation’s Capitol the night of Monday, June 1st, found that there was a “lack of clear guidance to the aircrews” — which led to a helicopter using its rotor wash for crowd dispersal, according to the final investigative report viewed by Breitbart News.

Investigating Officer Lane A. Thurgood said in the report:

Based on my finding that there was a lack of clear guidance to the aircrews regarding the purpose, nature and scope of the operation and their authorized and prohibited activities, I recommend that [D.C. Army National Guard] develop processes to prevent such a recurrence.

However, Thurgood did not recommend any punitive actions for the D.C. National Guard — which is the most diverse National Guard in the country, whose leadership includes three African American generals — or for the aircrews involved that night.

The investigation also found that the task force commander in charge of the mission, Brig. Gen. Robert K. Ryan, “did not provide clear guidance regarding the purpose, nature, and scope of the operation and authorized and prohibited activities.” However, the report also said he had received guidance to “flood the box,” and did not recommend any punitive actions for him either.

The report also said some air ambulances used that night were not marked with the Red Cross emblems, in violation of Army and DOD policy, and recommended that emblems be placed on them.

The report highlighted the unique situation unfolding in D.C. that led up to the helicopter incident.

The day before, Sunday, May 31st, was “reportedly the most violent day of civil unrest in D.C. in 30 years,” according to Attorney General William Barr, and President Trump had requested immediate help from more resources, including from the D.C. National Guard.

On Monday, June 1st, “a number” of senior Army leaders gathered at the D.C. National Guard Armory to discuss the evolving crisis, as they had in days prior, the report said.

Ryan had been in the midst of commanding the D.C. National Guard’s coronavirus response effort when he was also tapped by D.C. National Guard Commander Maj. Gen. William J. Walker to take on the mission to protect the city from rioters.

Ryan testified that the intent delivered to him through the chain of command was to “flood the box with everything we have.” That “box” was the federal enclave in downtown Washington.

Ryan said he decided to deploy all available D.C. National Guard aircraft to “show a military presence” and “do observation and command and control [and] inter-agency support.” The decision was in his authority, the report said.

Ryan told the task force aviation commander: “I need you to assist all our special agencies and I need you to orbit around the crowds to disperse any type of looting, mayhem, whatsoever.”

The task force aviation commander passed the order on to the aviation unit’s operations officer to “show a presence there if there is anything kinda crazy going on.”

The aviation unit’s operations officer said he understood that if the National Guard failed to deter unlawful activity on the National Mall, the “82nd [Airborne Division] would be on the streets.” He said Ryan called it “the National Guard’s D-Day.” “That perhaps framed the mission from there on,” he said.

One of the pilots who flew as part of the mission that night also said:

Monday night was going to be a large ramp up of National Guard troops in the city and that was where the urgency was palpable about the need to protect the city, protect the monuments. … If we didn’t do it the 82nd Airborne was going to take over for us and lock down the city. So the clear message that I understood was that it was very, very important that the DC Guard be able to protect the city.

The air assets included three Black Hawks and two Lakotas — four of which were air ambulances that should not have been used for anything other than validated aeromedical purposes. The report said Ryan was not aware of that policy, and the task force aviation commander did not inform him of the policy due to “misunderstandings.”

The report noted that leading up to that evening, the D.C. police chief had warned that anyone who violated the 7:00 p.m. curfew who was not media or had an essential function would be taken into custody, and that D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser had also issued a warning in a news conference.

The report said, “violence and looting broke out again that evening at various points throughout Washington,” and that the curfew had been in effect “for well more than an hour” before Ryan deployed air assets.

The report said beginning around 8:30 p.m., the five helicopters were ordered to downtown D.C.

The report describes a hectic evening, where the Metropolitan Police Department and other civilian law enforcement agencies working with the D.C. National Guard requested the helicopters to report to specific locations where law enforcement personnel on the ground wanted air assistance. There was even a request to transport an FBI officer.

In addition, the air operations officer that night could only communicate with the Black Hawk crews, who could then communicate to the Lakota crews.

During the incident in question, a Black Hawk helicopter was called to report to one location and observed the use of lasers and fireworks from the crowd on the ground.

The crew hovered at about 150 feet but did not descend further out of the concern its rotor wash would be unsafe for those on the ground. The pilot then called in a smaller Lakota helicopter to “get a better look at things.”

That Lakota came to hover above the crowd at below 100 feet. The moment was captured in numerous photos and videos posted on social media.

The pilot who flew the Lakota said he understood his mission was to provide a presence to deter crime, property damage, and injury.

“Fly low, be loud,” he said. “Helicopters are loud, so it’s distracting and annoying when there’s a helicopter over you.”

Several other pilots and aircrew members said they also remember their mission was to make noise and disperse crowds if it seemed they were getting out of control.

All aircraft returned to their airfield between 11:30 p.m. ET and 1:00 a.m. ET.

A technical adviser to the investigating officer said of the crews:

With the tasking of ‘Flood the Box’ these crews in my opinion demonstrated tremendous tactical initiative and great prudence in judgement to both complete their assigned mission and maintain aircraft control while limiting to the maximum any type of collateral damage (personal/property).

Trump later tweeted:

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