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Chaplains reach out to Cal Guard members fighting COVID-19

U.S. Air Force Maj. Edward Ganigan, center, a chaplain from the 163d Attack Wing, California Air National Guard, prays for soldiers of the California Army National Guard’s 315th Vertical Construction Company and staff members of the FIND Desert Regional Food Bank in Indio, California, April 29, 2020.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Edward Ganigan, center, a chaplain from the 163d Attack Wing, California Air National Guard, prays for soldiers of the California Army National Guard’s 315th Vertical Construction Company and staff members of the FIND Desert Regional Food Bank in Indio, California, April 29, 2020.

MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE, Calif. – Members of the chaplain corps from the 163d Attack Wing and the 195th Wing are visiting seven facilities across the Inland Empire to support members of the California Army and Air National Guard during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Master Sgt. Rene Martin of the 195th Wing and Maj. Edward Ganigan, a chaplain with the 163d Attack Wing, have conducted 27 visits spanning over 200 miles.

“Our mission is to provide spiritual support to all those in the south. All the way from Pasadena to El Centro and even San Diego. It’s very rewarding and a blessing to do what I signed up to do and to contribute to the folks on the front lines of our domestic operations in the communities,” said Ganigan.

With many service members activated, the chaplain visits are welcomed, says Pfc. Martin Zaragoza, 315th Vertical Construction Company. “To have him here as a resource is a great benefit. People might overlook the mental side of things, but him being here lets people know that help is there if they need it. It’s good for our spirits.”

Zaragoza is one of 10 Soldiers helping the Imperial Valley Food Bank package food at the warehouse for distribution. The unit helped hand out 20,000 pounds of food to 356 families who lined up at the first drive-through at the California Mid-Winter Fairgrounds as early as four hours in advance in 100-degree temperatures.

At the drive-through event, the chaplain team didn’t just sit on the sidelines.

“When these guys see a major and a master sergeant coming out and jump in, help, and see how they’re doing, it means a lot,” Martin said. “They see us as someone there to help and not just someone there to gawk. We develop trust this way and they look forward to us being there. It lets them know that I’m taking the risk, too; there’s people that care about them and understand what they’re going through.”

Staff Sgt. Danielle Grigsby of the 315th Vertical Construction Company said many of her Soldiers live too far away to go home while working six days a week serving the Indio community.

“We’re so busy, so him coming to us and being a positive presence is huge,” she said.

In addition to visiting sites, Ganigan and Martin provide counseling, prayer, connection to other agencies, or even virtual ministry to military members out in the community.

“Much of what we do is connect people to the support agencies they need when checking in on them. We know that our folks need to focus on their mission, and for some strange reason, that’s when the garage door breaks or refrigerators go down. They can let us know and we can reach out to other agencies so they can keep focused. It’s a team effort taking care of our troops,” said Ganigan.

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