ARLINGTON, Va. - Almost 47,000 Soldiers and Airmen from the National Guard are activated to help fight COVID-19 in the Guard’s largest domestic response effort since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
More than 51,000 Guard members responded to Katrina.
While Katrina response efforts were in a concentrated area along the Gulf Coast, COVID-19 response efforts have taken place in all 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia.
“In every single state across our nation, we have Guardsmen … who are working together with first responders and all of the organizations and agencies to help shepherd us through to the other side of this pandemic,” said Air Force Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau.
As the Guard begins its third month responding to the pandemic, efforts are focused mainly on COVID-19 testing sites and distributing medical supplies and food.
In April, Guard members packaged, served or delivered more than 44 million meals to those in need while also transporting more than 34,000 tons of bulk food to support food banks and other community-based programs.
“I have been unloading pallets, stocking food, packing boxes and bags, loading supplies into waiting cars, and assisting with cleanup,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. David Stefaniak, a boom operator with the Washington Air National Guard’s 116th Air Refueling Wing. “It’s very fulfilling to get to directly serve Washingtonians [who] are in need.”
Also in April, Guard members supported just under 1,600 screening sites nationwide and tested more than 750,000 people.
“As medics, we handle certain challenges that others may not experience,” said Army Sgt. Valerie Hodges, a combat medic with a Florida Army National Guard medical readiness detachment who has been on duty at a testing site in the Miami area. “Everyone chose the medical profession for personal reasons and due to that choice, we are here today helping the citizens of South Florida.”
Meanwhile, the West Virginia Army National Guard set up one of the first mobile testing labs approved by the Department of Defense.
“Once we arrive on-site, there’s about a 60-minute setup period in which we calibrate the machine,” said Army 1st Lt. Samantha Fabian, commander of the West Virginia Army Guard’s 1201st Forward Support Company. “Once we complete calibration, then our lab is certified and ready for operation.”
Across the nation, Guard members also distributed critical items of personal protective equipment (PPE) in April.
“One of our Soldiers made a delivery to a smaller nursing facility and he was greeted by 15 to 20 staff members [who] were in tears because he showed up with this PPE they needed,” said Army Staff Sgt. Jacob Schrot, with the Michigan Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 125th Infantry Regiment. “That really opened my eyes to what’s really going on out there.”
Guard members have supported other missions as well.
In eight states, Guard members staffed call centers and took almost 330,000 calls regarding COVID-19 matters.
“COVID-19 is a unique situation that directly threatens our communities,” said Army 1st Lt. Michel Flickinger, with the New York Army National Guard. “Although staffing a call center is not what many of us foresaw when we joined the National Guard, it is a way for us to assist our fellow citizens and connect them with the information they need.”
The Guard also added almost 6,000 beds at alternate care facilities in April. In Connecticut, Airman 1st Class Arielle Robles, an administration specialist with the Connecticut Air National Guard’s 103rd Airlift Wing, was part of her unit’s response in setting up a recovery center on a college campus.
“It’s crazy to see that where we would normally go for class or to workout is being turned into a field hospital, but it feels good to be helping the community and my school in this way,” said Robles.
Guard members have also disinfected almost 1,100 long-term care facilities, nursing homes, correctional facilities and numerous public areas. “[We spray] things like your doorknobs, handles on anything – things that you are going to touch with regularity – and then [go over the surfaces with] rags and a mop to ensure that our solution spreads and has a lot of good contact time,” said Army Sgt. Christina Burgess, with the Oklahoma Army National Guard’s 63rd Civil Support Team. “That way, we can control any infection that could be around.”
The Guard has also provided about 600 liaison officers who facilitate communication with state and local agencies seeking assistance and support.
Army Command Sgt. Maj. Brian Webb, the senior enlisted leader with the North Carolina Army National Guard’s 60th Troop Command and a liaison officer with state officials, said Guard members have a stake in what happens in their communities.
“We bring our civilian skill sets into a military environment,” he said. “That plays a tremendous part in our success.”