Washington Guard accomplished many missions in 2021

  • Published
  • By Joseph Siemandel,
  • Joint Force Headquarters - Washington National Guard

CAMP MURRAY, Wash. – For the employees of the Washington Military Department, 2021 picked up right where 2020 left off, with hopes that we were advancing toward a post-pandemic future.

Less than a week into 2021, rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol as Congress reconvened to certify Joseph R. Biden as the nation’s new president. In the following days, more than 25,000 National Guard members from across the country — including more than 400 from the Washington National Guard — arrived to support the presidential inauguration. In March, another group of Washington National Guard members deployed to the nation’s capital to provide ongoing security.

Simultaneously, a group of protesters stormed the governor’s mansion in Olympia to protest the state’s COVID-19 restrictions. At least 600 National Guard members were activated to support the Washington State Patrol at the capitol as the 2021 legislative session began.

January also brought a glimmer of hope for many as the state began a mass vaccination effort. Partnered with the Washington Department of Health, National Guard members helped out at multiple vaccination sites and assisted living centers.

The Washington Emergency Management Division’s state Emergency Operations Center remained activated for COVID-19 but also responded to wildfires, floods and more throughout the year.

The Washington Youth Academy opened its campus doors for the first time in nearly nine months, with 185 cadets graduating in person.

While more than 1,000 Guard members continued to support the COVID-19 pandemic response, another 1,500 Guard members prepared for federal deployments. In March, more than 100 Guard members from the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 81st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, deployed to Ukraine to support Joint Multinational Training Group – Ukraine. In April, nearly 800 members of “Task Force Dark Rifles,” a combined arms battalion, deployed to Poland as part of the enhanced forward presence mission in the Baltic Sea region. In June, another 250 Washington National Guard members deployed to the Middle East for operations in Kuwait.

Also in April, in-person foreign exchanges resumed as a group of foreign attachés attended a conference at Camp Murray, learning about the Guard mission and visiting troops working at food banks. The Washington National Guard’s State Partnership Program partners, Malaysia and Thailand, resumed exchanges.

In May and June, more than 250 Washington National Guard members prepared for the summer wildfire season. In July, August and September, helicopter and ground crews deployed to help fight fires across eastern Washington.

By August, when the Washington National Guard’s COVID-19 response ended, Guard personnel had packaged and distributed nearly 100 million pounds of food at food banks, administered more than 250,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, built more than 2.5 million COVID-19 test kits, and tested more than 75,000 Washingtonians.

Overseas, Guard members from the 319th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company who had arrived in Afghanistan in early August were on the ground in Kabul as the Taliban gained control of the city. During their short time there, these members helped citizens and those seeking refuge evacuate to the United States. Nearly 60 Washington Air Guard members deployed to the East Coast for Operation Allied Welcome, providing medical aid, processing and support to displaced Afghans.

As Thanksgiving approached, strong winds and heavy rain led to flooding in Whatcom, Skagit and Snohomish counties. Following the holiday, a second round of storms approached, and 40 members of the National Guard were deployed to Everson to provide sandbags and high water vehicles. The Washington Emergency Management Division was also dispatched to chronicle flood damage and work on major disaster declarations.

As the year came to a close, 100 members of the 81st Stryker Brigade Combat Team returned home from Ukraine. In early 2022, the remaining Washington National Guard members will return home from Poland and Kuwait while another group prepares to deploy to support training missions.