Jefferson Griffeath

Staff Sgt. Jefferson Griffeath was part of the 116th Engineering Battalion of the Idaho National Guard that took part in security for the nation's capital during the Biden presidential inauguration.

Idaho National Guard Staff Sgt. Jefferson Griffeath, of Moscow, said he had to do some “soul searching” when soldiers from this area were asked to travel to Washington, D.C., earlier this month to provide security for the presidential inauguration.

“I was downstairs working when the January 6th thing (riot at the Capitol) went on,” Griffeath said in a phone interview with the Tribune on Friday.

“I remember my daughter — she’s 12 — she’s like, ‘Dad, there’s something crazy going on with the news,’ ” Griffeath said.

His initial impression of the Capitol insurrection, based on preliminary reports, was that it wasn’t as severe as some people believed. Later, Griffeath said, when more information came out about it and he did his own research on the legal implications, he agreed the rioters had broken the law.

Griffeath said he believes the rioters at the Capitol had crossed “a bridge too far.” But he also thinks that there has been “a lot of drama” about the incident being a coup.

“I think it was an expression of anger,” Griffeath said. “I think they got it out of their system and the fact there were so many of us (soldiers) there was making it a hard target” for the violence to continue through the inauguration.

Part of his hesitation about volunteering for the inauguration detail also had to do with the protests in the Capitol last summer over the death of George Floyd. Griffeath said he believed at the time that the security reaction was “heavy-handed.”

“This time around, I had to sit down and I needed to make sure I wasn’t happy with it then (the law enforcement reaction) and I wouldn’t have been happy with it this time,” he said. But after talking to fellow soldiers who had provided law enforcement during the Floyd protests, “they felt good about it and felt that it was in the line of duty and not heavy-handed.”

Griffeath was one of more than 300 Idaho National Guard soldiers and airmen who took part in providing security for President Joe Biden’s swearing-in ceremony. They left on their mission Jan. 15 and returned home Sunday.

The Idaho National Guard planned for more than a month to send roughly two dozen personnel to the region in support of the inauguration. The increase in personnel was because of a new request to provide additional Guard support and represented roughly 7 percent of the Idaho National Guard force. About a dozen of the soldiers were from Moscow, Lewiston, Orofino and Grangeville.

Griffeath admitted he is not a fan of Biden’s, nor were most of his fellow soldiers sent on this mission. Griffeath, who is a lawyer in private practice in Moscow and also teaches law courses at Washington State University, said he does believe, however, that it was a fair election with no fraud involved. Some of the confusion, he said, resulted from ballots being mailed out rather than people required to vote in person.

Griffeath said he even heard rumors that the Idaho National Guardsmen were being vetted because of the assumption they were not Democratic voters.

All soldiers, however, swear an oath of allegiance to the Constitution — not a particular person or party.

“We talk politics; we’re human,” he said. “There isn’t a lot of love for the incoming commander in chief — most of us didn’t vote for him. But the idea here is, we have a duty to do. Our oath is to the Constitution — absolutely, 100 percent — regardless of feelings of the president.”

Maj. Gen. Michael Garshak, adjutant general of Idaho, praised the soldiers and airmen upon their return.

“We’re proud of you,” Garshak said, “but I’m not surprised you did exactly what I knew you would. You answered the call. You accomplished the mission and you represented Idaho in a professional manner.”

The Idaho Guardsmen augmented the Washington, D.C., National Guard and served in support of the U.S. Secret Service — the lead federal agency responsible for coordinating inaugurations — the U.S. Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, D.C.

The Guard response included an estimated 26,000 members from all states and territories. Nearly half of the National Guard task force conducted security-related duties, including traffic control and assisting visitors to assembly areas, as well as entry and exit points.

Guardsmen traveled to Washington, D.C., and back via military and contracted aircraft with standard government-issued equipment, including their service weapons. During operations, members carried ammunition on their person but not in their weapons, in accordance with force protection and threat condition measures.

Soldiers and airmen worked 12- to 20-hour shifts. While on duty, they took rest breaks in designated areas, which included the U.S. Capitol’s visitor center and a nearby parking garage before the inauguration. Idaho personnel slept in hotels in the district area while off duty.

Griffeath said the accommodations were actually quite comfortable, considering he and other soldiers are used to much harsher conditions.

But he got a text from his father who’d heard about the Guardsmen stationed in the parking garage and was concerned about his son’s welfare.

“I told him it was warm and it was out of the elements,” Griffeath said. “There were even flush toilets. We’re used to sleeping in the wind and the elements, but this was luxurious.

“Soldiers love to complain,” he added, “but I did not hear a single soldier complain about the parking garage. We just hung out there for a few hours between posts.”

Griffeath said he did not get to see the actual inauguration. His unit went on shift about the time the ceremony was over.

He did, however, get to see the U.S. Supreme Court building across the street from the Capitol. As a lawyer, he said, he was moved to be there.

“At the end of the day ... I never thought I would have literally been sitting in the Capitol, standing over something like this,” Griffeath said. “There was an incredible amount of pride. ... You’re literally defending the Constitution. And I got to see D.C. for the first time. Under those conditions, it was kind of heartbreaking.”

Hedberg may be contacted at kathyhedberg@gmail.com or (208) 983-2326.