LATHAM, N.Y. – The New York National Guard has doubled the number of members helping to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the state to more than 2,200 troops on duty.
From Niagara Falls to Long Island, Soldiers and Airmen are providing logistical and administrative support to state and local government to contain the spread of the coronavirus and help fellow New Yorkers.
Since March 10, when New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo directed National Guard forces to assist local communities, Guard missions have increased dramatically as the disease spread throughout the state.
Cuomo implemented "New York on Pause" March 22, limiting business activities to essential functions and encouraging New Yorkers to "stay home, stop the spread and save lives."
"We know the most effective way to reduce the spread of this virus is through social distancing and density reduction measures," Cuomo said.
New York National Guard members helped the New York State Department of Health establish and administer six drive-thru COVID-19 testing stations in New York City, Long Island, Westchester and Rockland counties.
Army National Guard combat medics and Air Guard medical technicians joined Department of Health medical providers in gathering samples for testing. Other personnel provide administration, logistics and traffic support at the sites.
While testing is a crucial part of understanding the spread of COVID-19, Guard members were encouraged to take on this unique role, said Air National Guard Command Master Sgt. Karolyn Devito, medical superintendent assigned to the 109th Airlift Wing.
"They were super excited, happy to help to be out here and working in such an important way," Devito said of her team at the Staten Island testing site.
In Manhattan, the Guard is supporting FEMA field hospitals with city and state officials at the Jacob Javits Center. Soldiers from the 133rd Composite Supply Company, part of the 369th Sustainment Brigade, are helping set up the infrastructure in the convention center's 1.8 million square feet of space.
Cuomo said setting up the four 250-bed field hospitals at the site would begin March 25 and take a week to 10 days. The National Guard will provide a mayor's cell and Soldiers to support the 320 federal staff members who will operate the site.
Army Guard Soldiers are supporting five warehousing sites to assist the state with emergency supply management and distribution. They are also delivering state-procured hand sanitizer to local governments in Westchester and New York City.
As the City of New Rochelle completes its second week of a citywide 14-day stay-at-home policy after the virus outbreak there March 12, Soldiers and Airmen continue to package and distribute food from local food pantries.
Other Soldiers are cleaning public spaces across New Rochelle. Teams have cleaned city hall, the YMCA, the Jewish Community Center and more than a half dozen places of worship.
Still other teams of Soldiers helped the Westchester County Office of Emergency Management provide tents to local hospitals March 18-20 as they prepare for an influx of patients.
"With all you guys here, we can just bang it out quick," said Jim Sheridan, a retired Westchester firefighter supporting delivery and placement of tents.
Pvt. Cindy Ganesh, assigned to the 369th Sustainment Brigade Headquarters, delivered food and hand sanitizer and put up tents at sampling sites.
"We're all in this together," Ganesh said, "so it's good to be working on different missions."
With repetition, the Soldiers and firefighters made quick work of the tent mission at the New York-Presbyterian-Hudson Valley Hospital in Cortlandt Manor March 20.
"Twenty-two minutes, that's a new record, even for us," Sheridan said. "Goes to show how fast this goes when we all work together."
Soldiers and Airmen are helping staff state call centers in Rotterdam and Brooklyn to answer questions from residents. They are among 577 people who handled more than 26,000 phone calls March 25.
"I take a great deal of pride in my team, made up of Soldiers and Airmen from all over New York State," said 1st Lt. Michael Flickinger, a leader for one of the call center teams who is assigned to the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team Headquarters. "Like myself, they were activated without a detailed understanding of what kind of missions they'd be given. We've adjusted to these unique circumstances in a way that gives me confidence we are ready to face whatever comes next."
New York National Guard Soldiers also helped the Department of Health's Wadsworth Laboratory in Albany assemble 22,000 COVID-19 testing kits in one day.
The NYNG has fully committed its forces around the state, establishing a joint task force headquarters in every region to support local governments.
Testing sites on Long Island are coordinated by the New York Air National Guard's 106th Rescue Wing at Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach.
Operations in New York City to support the Javits Center hospital expansion, sampling sites in the Bronx and Staten Island and food distribution are led by the state's homeland security task force at Fort Hamilton.
Testing in Westchester and Rockland Counties, along with logistics support and operations in New Rochelle, are coordinated by the 53rd Troop Command headquarters at the NYNG training site at Camp Smith near Peekskill.
The 109th Airlift Wing, based at Stratton Air National Guard Base near Schenectady, established a task force to handle call support, logistical support and other missions that might arise in the Albany area.
Missions to support warehousing emergency supplies in Central New York are coordinated by the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team with support from the 174th Attack Wing at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse.
Western New York missions are supported by a joint task force that includes the 153rd Troop Command Headquarters in Buffalo and the 107th Attack Wing from Niagara Falls.
Maj. Gen. Ray Shields, the adjutant general of New York, praised the joint force for working together with so many city, state and federal agencies.
"I am extremely proud of the great work you are doing," Shields said in a statewide message March 24. "When I visit with you in the field, the morale and esprit de corps is outstanding."
The governor also emphasized the impact of New York's resourcefulness when working together.
"We're going to get through it because we are New York and because we've dealt with a lot of things, and because we are smart," Cuomo said March 24. "You have to be smart to make it in New York. And we are resourceful, and we are showing how resourceful we are. And because we are united, and when you are united, there is nothing you can't do."
Airman 1st Class Anthony Walsh of the 106th Rescue Wing echoed the governor's emphasis on teamwork to contain the disease.
"It's not just me showing up one weekend a month," Walsh said at the Jones Beach testing site on Long Island March 20. "This is why I show up. This is worth it, and I'm proud to be here."