On April 15, 2013, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev placed and detonated two homemade bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three bystanders and injuring more than two hundred others. This case profiles the role the Massachusetts National Guard played in the complex, multi-agency response that unfolded in the minutes, hours, and days following the bombings, exploring how its soldiers and airmen helped support efforts on multiple fronts – from performing life-saving actions in the immediate aftermath of the attack to providing security on the region’s mass transit system and participating in the search for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev several days later. It also depicts how the Guard’s senior officers helped manage the overall response in partnership with their local, state, and federal counterparts. The case reveals both the emergent and centralized elements of the Guard’s efforts, explores the debate over whether or not Guard members should have been armed in the aftermath of the bombings, and highlights an array of unique assets and capabilities that the Guard was able to provide in support of the response.
This case prompts readers to reflect on the challenges the National Guard may encounter when responding to acts of terrorism on U.S. soil. It asks readers to consider how the Guard can most effectively partner with civilian authorities in a domestic setting, the extent to which its deployments overseas can help inform these efforts, and how public safety organizations in general can overcome communication obstacles and significant elements of novelty to organize an effective response.