Conrad arrived in Washington on Jan. 9 and, like Chen, her unit was assigned to the Library of Congress. (Chen and Conrad do not know one another.)
“We had a beautiful view of the Capitol on our first night,” she said. “It was very calm and quiet. It was very cold.”
After that, her unit transitioned to more rotations around the Capitol building. Although National Guard members had hotel rooms, the lobby of the building became a makeshift sleeping area, leading to photographs of sleeping Guard members circulating on social media.
“A lot of people who were reporting it, I think, were upset that we were sleeping on the Capitol floor,” she said.
People launched campaigns to send the troops cots. “The National Guard shared with these people that we appreciate the gesture. Basically, in between shifts, when we were standing out guarding the Capitol, we’d be able to come back inside and rest for a few hours. So, I spent several nights inside the Capitol, actually, which was wild and something I never thought that I would be able to do.”
Conrad said she has worked every day since she arrived in Washington and spent some of her down time reading “Atlas Shrugged,” by Ayn Rand.
Asked if she felt like she was part of history, Conrad paused for a moment.
“It’s really crazy. I’ve gotten a lot of messages from family and friends wanting to check in and just remind me how crazy it is,” she said. “I think with our constant cycle of just being on for long shifts and then coming back and just sleeping as much as we can before we go back out, it feels a little bit detached from how special an occasion this is. But we are definitely in down moments, very much in awe of what’s going on and where we are.”
Like Chen, Conrad and her team do not know where she will be deployed from one day to the next. It could be trying, but she said she’s become used to that.
“At times it can definitely be frustrating, but it’s kind of part of what we signed up for and understand that, you know, things can’t be predicted,” she said. “Nobody knew that what was going to happen on the 6th would be as serious as it was. And so, we willingly take the oath knowing that we could be called in at any moment to respond to something like that.”
Conrad said that is something National Guard members are ready and willing to do. She is making “the best of it” until she can return to her classes at UVA.
“My chain of command is really accommodating with that, too,” she said. “I mean, these soldiers dropped literally everything – their families, their homes, their jobs – everything that was going on in our lives, we picked up and walked away from in 10 hours to be able to come here.”
Chen and Conrad are still serving in Washington. Their missions are expected to end early this month. Below, take a look at some more of Chen’s photos from his time in Washington.