Last Call: N.H. Guard Airmen conclude call center mission
By Staff Sgt. Victoria Nelson, 157th Air Refueling Wing
/ Published July 16, 2020
PORTSMOUTH, N.H. -- On the day before the New Hampshire National Guard’s call center misson was scheduled to finish, there was no let down to be heard.
The common refrain, “Thank you for calling New Hampshire Unemployment Call Center,” reverberated through the halls of the Edward Cross Training Center in Pembroke even before walking into the rooms filled with computers, headsets and the airmen and soldiers wearing them.
Since April, when Guardsmen were first activated to assist NH Employment Security with unemployment claims as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 450,000 calls had been fielded.
As leaders reflected on the remarkable volume of calls, the heart and soul of the mission was found much deeper in the unwavering dedication of the Guardsmen.
“Being able to help as many New Hampshire citizens and members of the New Hampshire work force as we have is a huge accomplishment,” said Lt. Col. Christine Banks, officer in charge of Task Force Call Center. “We had mechanics, band members and people in aviation answering calls and acclimating to help members of the community.”
“Not only did they help answer unemployment calls,” Banks continued, “but our Guardsmen also took the time to listen, empathize and connect.”
Airmen of the 157th Air Refueling Wing (top photo), including Master Sgt. Jill Butler (at center), field calls at the unemployment call center in Pembroke on July 14.
There have been a few state activations over the last decade in the Granite state, but none equal to the breadth or impact on local neighbors as this mission.
“A quick note of thanks to Jill Butler,” begins an email from a New Hampshire resident. “She was a great help to me recently when I was applying for the first time ever for temporary unemployment benefits due to COVID 19. She is thorough, knowledgeable, personable, and exhibited empathy and understanding.”
Master Sgt. Jill Butler, a nondestructive inspector with the 157th Maintenance Group, grew up in New England and said missions like this are why she joined the military.
“The unemployment call center created an opportunity for me to help people,” Butler said. “It has restored a sense of purpose for me personally and reminded me that I am good at navigating information and being the helpful voice directing people.”
Butler is one of dozens of Guardsmen who have been on orders since April. The call center mission ends July 15, but the Soldiers and Airmen, who with minimal training helped tens of thousands of fellow citizens secure financial relief, will be leaving with a newfound sense of purpose and adaptability.
“‘Other duties when assigned,’ I guess that’s the category this falls into,” said Butler laughing. “It’s a welcome reminder that I can always learn new things and I can help people. If I can do that here I can do it at the base and anything I am thrown into.”
Not everyone felt the same way, but they all embraced the challenges in admirable ways.
“I call (Butler) ‘Heart and Soul’ because she is so thoughtful and dedicated,” said Master Sgt. Frank Perry of the 157th Air Refueling Wing Safety Program. “Everyone in this room has a nickname because everyone in here has brought something so different to this mission.”
The call center mission has highlighted the reach of the New Hampshire National Guard relief efforts and the hearts behind the voices on the other end of the line.
“I hope this whole experience helps bring awareness to the ways in which the Guard continues to serve our state,” Banks said. “We are such an integral part of local communities, and over the past four months I have been so inspired by the resiliency of fellow Guardsmen and the people of New Hampshire. It has truly been an honor.”