For the first time in New Jersey Army National Guard's history, more than 120 of its soldiers, reported in civilian clothes to county election boards and polling sites in seven counties in support of the state's primary election.
The state mission came in response to concerns about a shortage of poll workers and volunteers for the July 7 election due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. Soldiers assisted polling sites in Atlantic, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Mercer, Middlesex and Monmouth counties.
Army Brig. Gen. Jemal J. Beale, New Jersey's adjutant general, said the guard's election effort was an extension of its broader response to the coronavirus, which has included the mobilization of more than 100 soldiers at three Veterans Memorial Homes run by the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
"The New Jersey National Guard serves as our state's military first response," Beale said. "This response can come in many different forms, but the bottom line is that our airmen and soldiers step up when the community needs us."
Although this was the first time the New Jersey National Guard assisted local election officials, several other states have received polling-place support from the National Guard over the past several months.
The soldiers who mobilized for election duty in New Jersey performed tasks such as processing vote-by-mail and provisional ballots, assisting voters and sanitizing voting devices and other areas inside the polls.
Some of the soldiers have remained on duty for the next 15 days to assist officials with the ballot count.
On Election Day, Army Spc. Carlos Concepcion found himself in Mercer County helping officials sort mail-in ballots. He said the election mission was only the latest of his several mobilizations in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
"It feels great because I get to experience a closer connection to the people I live around, versus if I was an active Army soldier," Concepcion said "Our impact feels bigger because we are right here in our own communities when they need us. When essential workers are also affected by this, if not the National Guard, then who else will fill in these roles? That's what we signed up to do."
In Atlantic County, soldiers assisted in assembling provisional ballot bags and filled in for polling-station workers and volunteers.
The largest contingent of soldiers was sent to Monmouth County, where they reported to the county board of elections. Army Staff Sgt. Rashaun Jones, the noncommissioned officer in charge, gave a brief pep talk before they started work.
"We're here because we're professionals," he said. "Let's do great things and have fun."
(Army Sgt. 1st Class Wayne Woolley is assigned to the New Jersey National Guard.)