The U.S. Army Military District of Washington traces the origin of its current incarnation to 1921, but its purpose existed in the Union Army headquarters that organized defenses of the nation's capital during the Civil War.
In World War II, MDW was a jointly staffed command with new responsibilities for the air, ground and naval defense of the capital and the newly built Pentagon.
MDW became the home of the Army’s official ceremonial units, the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) and the U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own.” These, Army cemetery operations, air support, court martial and other UCMJ responsibilities, signal activities, installation management and a variety of contingency missions and other administrative functions made MDW one of the most useful little Major Commands in the Army.
Now a Direct Reporting Unit, the command showed its mettle when terrorists struck in September 2001. It was the key defense support in the rescue and recovery operations at the Pentagon, a credential that brought streamlining of functions -- and further responsibilities.
When U.S. Northern Command formed to provide homeland defense and defense support to civil authorities, MDW was charged with standing up Joint Force Headquarters National Capital Region as its subcommand. The command’s Air Operations Group extends the reach of Army leadership within the region through the 12th Aviation Battalion and internationally with the jets of the Army Priority Air Transport. The MDW commander is also the senior mission commander for four Army and one joint Army/Marine multi-installation garrisons.
No longer immersed in the direct management of the installations, MDW has oversight of the garrison-level support provided to the many joint and Army missions based along with MDW as tenants of the installations.
Presently MDW is the Army Force under JFHQ-NCR, and the organizations share a single commander and core staff that link operationally with other service components and interagency partners to support both ceremonial and contingency missions. The MDW commanding general directs a staff to work in collaboration with other authorities, civilian and military, enhancing communications and planning as well as the ability for coherent response to crisis, as when JFHQ-NCR becomes a joint task force, as it regularly does for national special security events.
The MDW commanding general has some unique responsibilities in connection with his command's ceremonial mission. At various official functions as directed he represents the president of the United States, the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretary of the Army or the chief of staff of the Army. The command sees the nation’s wounded on their return from battle and receives the fallen on their return. Funeral honors at Arlington National Cemetery are the command’s honored responsibility.
The Army Band and the Old Guard represent the Army well at outreach events large and small, near and far. They combine forces for the Twilight Tattoo performances at Fort Myer. Concerts and recitals by Army Band musicians and exhibitions by Old Guard performing units like the Army Drill Team or the Fife and Drum Corps keep the command in the public eye.