WASHINGTON – The head of the D.C. National Guard, Maj. Gen. Errol R. Schwartz, said Friday that he has been ordered removed from his command effective Jan. 20, 12:01 p.m., just as Donald Trump is sworn in as president.
Schwartz’s forced departure will come in the midst of the presidential inauguration that he has spent months helping plan alongside D.C. police, the U.S. Secret Service and other top District of Columbia officials. He will turn over command to an interim as power transfers from one president to the next, and just before the inaugural parade marches down Pennsylvania Avenue.
“The timing is extremely unusual,” Schwartz said in an interview Friday morning, confirming a memo announcing his ouster that was obtained by the Washington Post. During the inauguration, Schwartz would command not only the members of the D.C. guard but also an additional 5,000 troops sent in from across the country to help. He also would oversee military air support protecting the nation’s capital during the inauguration.
“My troops will be on the street,” Schwartz, 65, said. “I’ll see them off but I won’t be able to welcome them back to the armory.” He said that he would “never plan to leave a mission in the middle of a battle.”
Schwartz said he would oversee duties in a command center and then depart at 12:01 p.m., retiring from the Army.
Schwartz said that he has been swamped with inauguration duties and packing up four decades’ worth of papers and accumulated items, and has not yet been able to inform District of Columbia officials, including the mayor and the chair of the D.C. Council. Unlike in states, where the governor appoints the National Guard commander, in the District of Columbia that duty falls to the president.
Schwartz said that he has not been told why he was asked to step down. “I’m a soldier,” he said, noting that he was following orders and has no regrets. “I’m a presidential appointee, therefore the president (has) the power to remove me.”
Schwartz began his military career in 1976 by enlisting in the guard, formally called the Militia of the District of Columbia National Guard. He also oversees the Air National Guard, which combined with the Army guard has an authorized strength of 2,700. He has served in several leadership positions, including commanding the 372nd Military Police Battalion.
He graduated in 1980 from the University of the District of Columbia with a degree in electrical engineering and earned master’s degrees in business management from Central Michigan University and in national security strategy from the National Defense University at Fort McNair, Washington.
Schwartz said that he is most proud of the Youth Challenge Academy, a school for teenage dropouts run by the guard with an infusion of federal money that is separate from both D.C. public and charter schools. It is located at the former Oak Hill facility, the District of Columbia’s old juvenile jail. He said that about 60 percent of the school’s student body have obtained high school diplomas, and some have gone on to college.
“These are kids with high potential,” Schwartz said. “They just need to be steered a little bit. That’s what guardsmen can do.” He said he has already told his wife that even while retired, he might stay active in the school.
“I don’t mind walking the halls and knocking on doors wearing a suit and tie,” he said.
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