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What is the National Guard's mission in La Mesa?

National Guards can act as a deterrent, to prevent the type of violence that destroyed much of La Mesa’s quaint downtown, said retired Marine Lt. Colonel Hal Kempfer

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — On Wednesday night, 200 members of the California National Guard arrived in San Diego County, and on Thursday night, 100 members are in La Mesa at the request of the San Diego Sheriff's Department to protect the city from possible protests. 

The other 100 National Guard personnel remain in different parts of the county. 

But what is their mission? 

Part of it is to add an element of seriousness, gravity, and surprise, said retired Marine Lt. Colonel Hal Kempfer.

“Just seeing them out there in their uniforms with their vehicles helmets and everything on the protests,” said Kempfer.

He said National Guards can act as a deterrent, to prevent the type of violence that destroyed much of La Mesa’s quaint downtown.

“It’s more of a presence mission,” said Kempfer.

It may be intimidating, but what can they do?

“They wouldn't arrest somebody, but they can stop someone and hold them in place until law enforcement can come and take them into custody,” said Kempfer.

Kempfer was an instructor for the National Guard. He said what people don't think of is their background.

Who are these troops?

“Let me tell you who your National Guard troops are: They are your next door neighbors. Working in your office. They're teachers. They drive buses. Sometimes, police officers and firefighters,” he said.

Most of them are reserve military forces stepping up to help out.

“I think it's good for precautionary reasons especially after what took place last weekend,” one local said.

They've not been called to quell a protest since the 1992 Rodney King riots, but they're as trained for civil unrest, as they are for terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and other emergencies, like pandemics.

“They’d much rather be clearing roads and stopping fires and helping people, not out there on the line with a protest. But keep in mind every soldier out there has sworn an oath of the constitution,” said Kempfer.

While they're here upholding our constitutional rights to free speech and assembly, many are also wondering how long they'll stay. 

The answer to that depends on the situation on the ground. It can be days or weeks. 

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