ARLINGTON, Va. – Risks are part of the job description for pararescue jumpers. But, as Chief Master Sgt. Seth Zweben recalled, the leap into the unknown to deliver COVID-19 virus test kits to 3,500 mostly positive passengers stranded on a cruise ship in March 2020 gave some PJs pause.
“Take yourself back a year and just imagine the world before we knew about the details of this virus and how to manage it,” said Zweben, a member of the California Air National Guard’s 129th Rescue Wing, during a March 5 media event. “We had to talk to the team members and make sure they were comfortable taking this risk. Ultimately, we made it through.”
Last week marked the one-year anniversary of that National Guard mission. Since that day, the National Guard in all 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia have been battling the COVID-19 pandemic. At its peak, more than 47,000 National Guard Soldiers and Airmen were in their communities handing out food, providing testing, and delivering protective equipment to front-line workers.
Today, National Guard members are administering over 120,000 vaccines a day at nearly 800 sites. They have provided over 632 million meals, distributed 562 million essential supplies, administered over 16 million COVID-19 tests, set up alternate care facilities that increased hospital capacity by 20,300 beds, and disinfected 71,000 facilities.
And they’re not done, insisted Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the chief of the National Guard Bureau.
“Every day, for over a year now, tens of thousands of National Guard members, many of whom left their families and civilian jobs, have served at food banks, testing locations, warehouses, and vaccination sites,” he said. “As I speak, over 29,500 Army and Air National Guard members, or about 7% of our force, are supporting COVID-19 operations around the country.”
The Nebraska National Guard, in partnership with the University of Nebraska Medical Center, played a key role in February 2020 when they were asked to house 57 people returning from China at one of this country’s first quarantine sites.
“My relationship with the University of Nebraska goes back to when I was a faculty member,” said Maj. Gen. Daryl L. Bohac, Nebraska’s adjutant general. Due to that relationship, when federal health agencies contacted the medical center’s biocontainment facility to help evacuate U.S. citizens from the Wuhan province, the university reached out to Bohac and the Nebraska National Guard for assistance.
“It’s really just a great story about Guard relationships and community relationships, and how important it is to have those relationships in place before things happen,” said Bohac.
In addition to fighting the pandemic, Hokanson noted the Guard still conducts its regular training and supports its overseas requirements.
“We were able to accomplish all of our missions throughout this process,” he said. “Throughout 2020, we did not miss one of our scheduled overseas deployments.”
The Guard’s commitment to end the pandemic, he insisted, is as strong as it was a year ago.
“We will continue to help vaccinate our fellow Americans,” Hokanson said, “and help defeat COVID-19.”