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Eight Decades of Coordinated Domestic Response Operations: The Ga. DoD and GSP

By Maj. William Carraway | Sept. 9, 2020

MARIETTA, Ga. — Over Labor Day weekend, Citizen Soldiers and Airmen of the Georgia National Guard worked with members of the Georgia State Patrol in Atlanta to ensure public safety following instances of civil unrest. The Ga. National Guard has a long tradition of partnering with the GSP and other state and local responders in times of emergency.

Operation Deathless
In August 1958, Georgia’s Governor Marvin Griffin, a former Adjutant General of Georgia, pondered grim traffic statistics provided by the Ga. Department of Public Safety. The previous year, the GSP responded to 281 accidents resulting in 117 injuries and seven deaths over Labor Day weekend. Despite more than 450 public safety officers from the GSP and Georgia Bureau of Investigations ramping up enforcement and patrols, the GSP estimated that 14 Georgians would die in traffic accidents from August 29 to September. 1, 1958. Not content to simply stand by and wait for the statistics to become reality, Griffin turned to the Georgia National Guard.

After consulting with the governor, Maj. Gen. Charlie Camp, Georgia’s Adjutant General, ordered more than 600 Guardsmen to state active duty over the Labor Day weekend for an unprecedented mission of public safety. The Guardsmen, representing more than 30 units from across the state, took to the roads and skies in partnership with GSP to spread a message of traffic safety and to prevent traffic accidents and deaths associated with increased holiday traffic.

“I’m supposed to use the National Guard only in times of emergency,” said Griffin in a statement announcing Operation Deathless.” Well, when it is estimated that 14 people will be killed in Georgia in one weekend, I think a real emergency exists and I want to save those 14 lives.”

On the ground, more than 100 National Guard jeeps, prominently adorned with the 12 by 18-inch Operation Deathless sign with skull and crossbones logos were positioned to deter aggressive driving and assist motorists. Guardsmen in radio-equipped jeeps maintained roadblocks and observation points at key intersections and highways. Though Guardsmen had no arresting authority they provided backup at GSP checkpoints, helped detain intoxicated drivers and stopped cars with defective headlights. The Guardsmen also rendered aid to stranded motorists with flat tires, stalled vehicles and other minor problems.

Operating 24 hours a day, the Guardsmen worked with state and local law enforcement officials to spread the word about highway safety and to respond to those in need. In addition to the robust ground effort, 20 Ga. National Guard helicopters and fixed wing aircraft took to the air to advise GSP of reckless drivers. As a result of their combined efforts, traffic fatalities fell well below the predicted level of 14 with eight lives lost over the long travel weekend.

Patriot Winter
When a rare winter storm descended upon north Georgia January 9, 2011, the combination of snow, sleet and freezing rain covered roads and interstates from Atlanta to Chattanooga with ice. Again, Georgia’s Governor turned to the Ga. DoD and GSP.

“Soldiers and Airmen of the Georgia National Guard stand ready to do our part to help local communities recover,” said Maj. Gen. William Nesbitt, Georgia’s Adjutant General at the time of the winter response.

At the request of the GSP, Georgia National Guard units transported hospital staff to Grady Memorial Hospital and other medical centers throughout north Georgia. reconnaissance flights by the Marietta-based 78th Aviation Troop Command helped the Ga. Department of Transportation assess the storm impact while GSP officers, travelling with National Guard High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicles assisted stranded motorists and cleared roads for civilian emergency vehicles. In Calhoun, the 1st Squadron, 108th Cavalry Regiment deployed Soldiers and vehicles to assist GSP in reaching areas inaccessible to patrol vehicles.

2014 Winter Storms
Two winter storms struck Georgia between January 28 and February 10, 2014. The first of these storms struck Atlanta with freezing rain paralyzing traffic and stranding motorists. More than 200 Georgia Army National Guard Soldiers were activated in response to Governor Nathan Deal’s emergency declaration. The Guardsmen mobilized more than 50 response vehicles to assist the GSP and other local responders in rescuing stranded motorists. Nearly 5,000 motorists were assisted in the early hours of January 29 alone.

A heavy snow event impacted Georgia with snow and ice accumulation from the Tennessee border to Augusta February 12. More than 1,000 Georgia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen were activated to assist the GSP and Ga. DOT with road clearing operations while volunteers of the Ga. State Defense Force augmented response operations at GEMA.

“Our Georgia Guardsmen have been trained to respond to (winter storms),” said Brig. Gen. Joe Jarrard, commanding general of the Ga. ARNG. “Guardsmen want to help their fellow citizens during state emergencies and are well prepared to do so.

Civil Defense Operations
On the afternoon of May 29, 2020, thousands gathered in Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta for a peaceful observance of the life of George Floyd and to demand justice for his death. Despite the peaceful intent of the demonstration, violence broke out as the evening wore on. Live footage of burning police cars and shattered windows at the CNN center shocked Atlanta and world residents alike. Peaceful demonstrations swiftly gave way to coverage of widespread looting from the College Football Hall of Fame to Lenox Mall.

Six minutes before the stroke of midnight, Governor Brian Kemp issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency in Fulton County and activating 500 Georgia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen. By 3:00 a.m. the next morning, more than 60 Ga. ARNG Soldiers of the 265th Chemical Battalion were in position guarding property adjacent to Centennial Olympic Park. Arrayed along Marietta Street NW From Baker Street to the CNN Center, the thin line of Citizen Soldiers stood as a bulwark against further property damage. Meanwhile, Soldiers of the Decatur-based 170th Military Police Battalion rushed to Lenox Mall to deter further looting. Just hours before, the Soldiers of the 265th and 170th had been engaged in COVID-19 response operations disinfecting long term care facilities and supporting Ga. Department of Health testing sites around Atlanta.

Standing among the early responders to Centennial Olympic Park were Maj. Gen. Tom Carden, Georgia’s Adjutant General and Brig. Gen. Randall Simmons, commander of the Ga. ARNG. In the pre-dawn darkness, the senior leaders conferred at the intersection of Marietta Street and Centennial Olympic Park Avenue and conceived of the initial troop movements to assist the GSP in providing for public safety and preventing escalating violence and property damage.

For the first week in June, Soldiers and Airmen of the Ga. National Guard supported the efforts of the GSP in ensuring a peaceful environment for Georgia’s citizens to exercise their constitutional rights of speech and assembly. The GSP and Atlanta Police Department were also charged with enforcing the curfew imposed by the mayor of Atlanta. To support this mission, the Ga. DOD dispatched Citizen Soldiers of the 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and 201st Regional Support Group to supplement GSP and APD security. Georgia Air National Guard Airmen of the 165th Security Forces Squadron also deployed in support of civilian law enforcement officers at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic with medics from the 116th Air Control Wing and 165th Airlift Wing. As a result of the strong coordinated response, Atlanta did not witness a repeat of the violence and property damage observed May 29 and Ga. DoD support operations concluded June 8.

The morning of July 5 saw a return of violence as vandals struck properties across Atlanta including the GSP Headquarters. In response, Governor Brian Kemp issued an executive order authorizing the activation of up to 1,000 Georgia Guardsmen. Briefing senior leaders of the Ga. DoD, Carden addressed the gravity of the situation.

“We do a much better job protecting the American people than we do policing the American people,” said Carden. “This is not a job we relish doing, but when the situation like we saw over the weekend dictates our assistance, we will do it and be professionals while we do it.”

From July 6 through Labor Day weekend, Ga. ARNG Soldiers supplemented GSP personnel, secured public property throughout Atlanta and responded to demonstrations to prevent violence. While Labor Day weekend operations have ended, the Ga. DoD remains on duty performing missions in support of COVID-19 response efforts, civil defense and deploying personnel in support of overseas combat operations.