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Illinois National Guard members in D.C. for the Biden inauguration; city in lockdown after Capitol attack

As of Sunday, there were 267 members of the Illinois National Guard in Washington.

Illinois National Guard members in Washington for the Joe Biden inauguration are, from left, Private First Class Fatima Perez; Capt. William Konovsky; Sgt. Courtney Lee; and Sgt. Ammar Keith.
Sun-Times/Lynn Sweet

WASHINGTON — As of Sunday, there were 267 members of the Illinois Army National Guard here — most of them to serve as military police — part of the enormous troop build-up in advance of Joe Biden’s inauguration, with the threat level high after the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

The center of this city — from the Capitol, to the White House, to the National Mall — is in lockdown and security is being bolstered by the minute, it seems. Streets are closed. Concrete barriers are everywhere. Fencing topped with razor wire surrounds the Capitol.

It’s near 7 a.m. I’m downtown. I left my car outside of a National Guard checkpoint — a tan Humvee blocked the street — to meet up with members of the Illinois National Guard housed nearby.

The National Guard force could number as many as 25,000 by the Wednesday swearing-in on the West Front of the Capitol, coming from every state of the union.

The Guard members are staying in hotels around the district.

Those pictures you may have seen of National Guardsmen looking like they were sleeping on the floor of the Capitol visitor’s center: that was just a rest area.

Sgt. Courtney Lee, 38, has been in the National Guard for almost 10 years, almost all in a military police unit based in Ft. Sheridan.

In civilian life a Chicago police officer who lives on the North Side, Lee was in D.C. as a tourist two months ago. He’s back as parts of the city are being fortified as never before.

Lee volunteered — all the National Guard members did — for this assignment. I asked him why he wanted to come.

“Just wanted to help out,” he said. “I know what it means for a place to be in unrest. ... I felt I would be able to help, cause I’ve gone through situations like this, especially in the city. …I’m in the guard because I like to, want to do stuff to make a difference.”

Private First Class Fatima Perez, 18, is a freshman at the College of DuPage, a Glenbard East High School grad.

She’s part of a military police unit. The criminal justice major has never been to Washington before. “I’m very proud to be here and help out people that are over here,” she said.

Sgt. Ammar Keith, 26, from Park Ridge, is a construction contractor in civilian life. He graduated Northern Illinois University in 2018, joining the Guard after high school for the education benefits.

“We’re doing our job — protecting the people of this country. ... Our oath to the Constitution is to make sure everything goes smoothly with the transition,” said Lee. “We’re doing our job. As far as the politics, we leave that out. Being in the Army, we only see green…We’re here for the people, making sure that they’re safe.”

Capt. William Konovsky is the commander of the Illinois National Guard military police in D.C., an Aurora police officer in civilian life.

He’s served in Afghanistan and when he returned from the deployment to the U.S., Konovsky vacationed in D.C. He returns as a part of this tense city has been turned into fortress.

“Obviously, this is a turbulent time,” Konovsky said. “But just to even be a part of the inaugural changeover from one president to another, I see pride in that.”