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Guardsmen Remain Adaptable in Face of Coronavirus

April 9, 2020 | BY Jim Garamone , DOD News

More than 28,000 National Guardsmen are helping to fight the coronavirus across America, the chief of the National Guard Bureau said.

Air Force Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel and Army Brig. Gen. D. Keith Waddell, Louisiana's adjutant general, remotely briefed Pentagon reporters yesterday on the Guard's contribution to the fight.

Man stands at lectern with large TV screen in background.
Pentagon Briefing
Air Force Lt. Col. Robert Carver moderates a news conference featuring Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, and Army Brig. Gen. Keith Waddell, the Louisiana adjutant general, on the coronavirus fight, April 8, 2020.
Photo By: Lisa Ferdinando, DOD
VIRIN: 200408-D-BN624-0064

The Guardsmen have been seamlessly working with state and territory civilian officials and the Federal Emergency Management Agency since the beginning of the pandemic. Guardsmen have set up testing stations, helped establish overflow hospital beds, delivered food and necessities, and delivered critical protective gear for medical workers.

After New York, Louisiana is one of the states most hit by the pandemic. Waddell briefed on what his soldiers and airmen are doing. "Our motto in the Louisiana National Guard is 'Protect What Matters'" he said.

Two people in medical suits and masks hold clipboards.
Testing Site
Louisiana National Guardsmen with the 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and the 62nd Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team gather information from first responders and medical personnel at a COVID-19 mobile testing site at the Alario Center in Westwego, La., March 21, 2020.
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. Garrett L. Dipuma
VIRIN: 200321-Z-PJ019-1228

Guardsmen have delivered protective equipment to medical workers in all 64 parishes of the state, he said. This has covered 120 medical facilities. "The 139th Regional Support Group has completed over 600 distribution missions," he said. 

Guardsmen also are providing medical support. "Soldiers from the 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and the [airmen of the] 159th Fighter Wing have been providing medical support to the drive-through testing sites in Orleans and Jefferson Parish," the general said. "These soldiers and airmen have swabbed over 11,000 symptomatic citizens from these two parishes. And we have more medics supporting other medical testing sites throughout Louisiana."

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Louisiana expects a surge of COVID-19 patients in the coming days and weeks. Waddell noted that the 225th Engineer Brigade is working with the State Fire Marshal's Office, the Louisiana Department of Health and the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct engineer assessments of overflow medical facilities throughout Louisiana. "This collaborative effort by all stakeholders resulted in over 70 assessments, some of which were chosen for construction or remodeling," he said. 

The National Guard is aimed at battlefield medicine. Guard capabilities are more involved with transporting soldiers and airmen from the battlefield to trauma clinics to longer care facilities. Still, members of the National Guard are actually supplying staff for alternate care facilities, in some cases right alongside active duty personnel, Lengyel said. 

Two people dressed in personal protective equipment test a nasal swab.
Swab Testing
A Massachusetts National Guard medic prepares to test a nasal swab from a resident of the Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley in Littleton, Mass., April 3, 2020. The Massachusetts National Guard worked with the facility’s staff to administer COVID-19 tests to help prevent the spread of the virus.
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. Kenneth Tucceri, Massachusetts National Guard
VIRIN: 200403-Z-ZI015-107

But the Guard is flexible — as demonstrated in past years as guardsmen from one state moved to others to help in natural disasters like hurricanes. That is already happening, Lengyel said, as Oregon and California, for example, have transported ventilators to New York and New Jersey. 

But the Guard is already looking beyond the immediate needs. Planners are looking to understand what the peak of the coronavirus pandemic means in any given locale. "Is it a sustained peak, or is there going to be some sort of a drawdown on the other side that makes the supplies or staff available to go someplace else?" Lengyel said. "I think that one of the most stressing things on the hospital system has been the duration of this event."

Two Air National Guardsmen sort medical supplies.
Sorting Supplies
Louisiana Air National Guardsmen sort medical supplies at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, March 31, 2020, while supporting COVID-19 response efforts. Medical supplies were stored at the sports arena before being distributed to drive-thru community-based COVID-19 testing sites.
Photo By: Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Dan Farrell
VIRIN: 200331-Z-PB680-021M

Lengyel said he believes that as the coronavirus event continues, the Guard will adapt. "We anticipate that people will be able to share supplies, and perhaps some staff as well," he said. "So that's how we're looking at this in the future."