Feature   Defense News

Guard's Domestic COVID-19 Response is Largest Since Hurricane Katrina

May 14, 2020 | BY Air Force Tech. Sgt. Erich B. Smith , National Guard Bureau

With almost 47,000 National Guard soldiers and airmen activated to fight COVID-19, this pandemic marks the Guard's largest domestic response since Hurricane Katrina.

While more than 51,000 guardsmen responded to the devastation caused by Katrina along the Gulf Coast in 2005, today's guardsmen are answering the call to fight a pandemic that has spread nationwide and beyond.

"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, the chief of the National Guard Bureau.

Soldiers getting their temperature taken.
Temp Check
Florida National Guard soldiers get their temperature taken before entering the Miami Beach Convention Center alternate care facility. The 50th RSG was one of the first units to be mobilized in support of the COVID-19 response in South Florida.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Leia Tascarini
VIRIN: 200416-A-UN364-559C

As the Guard begins its third month responding to the pandemic, efforts are focused mainly on COVID-19 testing sites and the distribution of medical supplies and food.

In April, guardsmen 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."

Additionally, guardsmen have supported 1,600 screening sites nationwide that have tested more than 750,000 people.

National Guardsmen distributing food.
Million Meals
New York Army National Guardsmen provide support to the New York City food distribution site in the Bronx, April 18, 2020. The Guardsmen are part of a citywide effort to support food distribution to those in need, providing more than 1 million meals across New York City.
Photo By: Brad Harrelson, New York Army National Guard
VIRIN: 200418-Z-A3538-0420

"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. "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 Defense Department-approved mobile testing labs.

"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, the 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."

Since April, guardsmen across the nation have been distributing critical personal protective equipment items to those in need.

Texas Air National Guard airmen helping at a food bank.
Food Distribution
Texas Air National Guard members join forces with the Tarrant Area Food Bank and Cowtown Marathon to provide food to the communities in the Fort Worth, Texas, area April 24, 2020.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Lynn M. Means
VIRIN: 200424-Z-PG680-0006C

"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 [personal protective equipment] 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."

Guardsmen have supported other missions as well. In eight states, guardsmen staffed call centers answering 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."

Soldiers walk three dogs on a city street.
Times Square Stroll
Members of the New York Army National Guard walk in Times Square, New York, with Labrador retriever service dogs provided by Puppies Behind Bars, April 23, 2020. The dogs are supporting service members and first responders involved with COVID-19 response efforts. Puppies Behind Bars is a nonprofit group that trains prison inmates to raise service dogs for wounded veterans and first responders.
Photo By: Air Force Senior Airman Sean Madden
VIRIN: 200423-A-ZZ999-001

The Guard also added almost 6,000 beds to alternate care facilities back in April. In Connecticut, Air Force 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," Robles said.

Guardsmen have also disinfected around 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."

National Guardsmen preparing boxes of food.
Food Prep
Ohio National Guard and Ohio Military Reserve personnel prepare boxes of food for distribution at the Southeast Ohio Foodbank in Logan, Ohio, April 16, 2020. They are assigned to state active duty at the food bank to help those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo By: Army 1st Lt. Caroline Pirchner
VIRIN: 200416-A-AA833-1006C

For local agencies seeking support, the Guard has provided about 600 liaison officers to help facilitate the flow of communication between the state and local agencies.

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."