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Guard Assists Illinois Residents in COVID-19 Response

April 15, 2020 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

About 31,000 Army and Air National Guard troops nationwide have been activated to support the COVID-19 pandemic response, and about 650 have been activated in Illinois, the chief of operations for the Illinois National Guard's joint task force said.

Army Lt. Col. Michael Eastridge spoke with reporters at the Pentagon by telephone today from Springfield, Illinois.

A person in uniform and a person in personal protective equipment bag a swabbed medical sample.
Sample Collection
Army Spc. Zakkery Kroft, left, an infantryman with the Illinois Army National Guard’s 3637th Maintenance Company, and Air Force Airman 1st Class Denver Duhs, an aerospace medical technician with the Illinois Air National Guard’s Detachment 1, 182nd Medical Group, bag a COVID-19 test at a drive-thru testing site in Bloomington, Ill., March 28, 2020.
Photo By: Air Force Airman 1st Class Wynndermere Shaw, Illinois Air National Guard
VIRIN: 200328-Z-UY850-1071

All missions the Guard takes on are initiated by civilian agencies and in close collaboration with the governor, Eastridge explained. ''The civil-military relationship has been absolutely outstanding,'' he said. ''The flow of information has been continuous throughout the day.''

Illinois Guard liaison officers are embedded in emergency operations centers to keep tabs on the status of hospitals and determine if Guard support is needed, Eastridge said.

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Operations are centrally located for warehouse activities in Springfield, the state capital. This helps consolidate supplies and transportation throughout the state, he noted.

Service members are receiving training on personal protective equipment before conducting operations Eastridge said, and COVID-19 testing kits are available for service members if required. Religious support teams are available throughout the state to provide spiritual and mental support, he added.

A forklift operator prepares to offload a military cargo plane.
Medical Supply Delivery
California Air National Guard airmen deliver medical supplies, including ventilators, to Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport in Springfield, Ill., April 7, 2020.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Stephen Gifford, California Army National Guard
VIRIN: 200407-Z-OK159-017

Eastridge listed a few of the activities the National Guard is engaged in throughout Illinois:

  • Supporting the buildout of the McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago as an alternate care facility, in collaboration with the Army Corps of Engineers.
  • Providing support to Cook County medical centers in respectful removal of the deceased. Service members are not physically removing the deceased from homes, he said, but rather are assisting the Cook County medical examiner's office with dignified transport of the deceased.
  • Providing medical screenings at Stateville and Sheridan correctional facilities.
  • Supporting logistics for alternate housing facilities in Schaumburg, Springfield and Mount Vernon. These facilities allow family members to isolate themselves if they don't already have the ability to do that to help prevent COVID-19 spread within families, he explained.
  • Operating drive-thru testing sites, including in Harwood Heights, Markham and Bloomington. More sites will be established  upon request of state health officials, he said.

A small group of four troops discuss logistics while other troops board military vehicles in the background.
Equipment Distribution
About 50 soldiers with the Illinois Army National Guard’s 1844th Transportation Company based in East St. Louis, Ill., are assisting with medical supplies and equipment distribution operations at two warehouses in central Illinois, March 26, 2020. The soldiers work hand in hand with the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Illinois State Police, and other county and municipal agencies to ensure that supplies are received and distributed as quickly and securely as possible.
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. Robert Adams
VIRIN: 200326-A-FI215-583

Eastridge noted that at one drive-thru, a civilian vehicle broke down, and service members were able to get the vehicle running again. The children of the family in the vehicle later returned to present pictures they had colored as a gesture of thanks to the service members who helped them.