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Secretary Esper enhances National Guard’s rapid COVID-19 response

By National Guard Bureau | March 28, 2020

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ARLINGTON, Va. – As more than 13,880 National Guard members support the whole-of-America response to COVID-19 today, an authorization by the secretary of defense has boosted the Guard’s ability to tackle the pandemic.

“We are using every tool available to get through this national crisis as fast as possible and get our great American economic juggernaut back to work,” said Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau. “COVID-19 is the most immediate threat facing our nation, and the virus knows no state boundaries. What the National Guard is doing in the states is part of a nationwide war on the coronavirus.”

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on Friday authorized a federal status for some National Guard missions in states and territories which have federal emergency declarations stemming from the pandemic.

The Stafford Act enables the president to declare emergencies when incidents threaten to overwhelm local or state governments’ ability to respond, allowing access to federal money.

“Thanks to President Trump’s emergency declarations, states can be reimbursed for emergency expenses,” Lengyel said.

Requests for federal money to help pay for National Guard missions must first be validated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“Our Guard members are on the front lines of this pandemic, fighting an invisible and dangerous enemy,” Lengyel said. “Every American has a role in stopping this pandemic. By following CDC guidelines, you are directly serving your neighbors and our nation.”

Guard members in all 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia are bringing protective equipment to first responders and hospital staff, supporting testing facilities and call centers, helping disinfect public spaces, providing transport, delivering food and serving as liaisons in state Emergency Operations Centers, among other missions.

The National Guard’s ability to respond to the national crisis stems, in part, from its unique military statuses, able to support both state and federal missions.

“Every state has a different way to deal with disasters, and the National Guard is uniquely qualified and postured to act under the command and control of the governor in the state,” Lengyel said. “We are neighbors helping neighbors. The communities we serve are the ones where we live.”

Outside of regular training duties, Guard members can be activated in one of three types of duty status: state active duty, or SAD; federally funded state activation; and federal activation.

Until Friday’s approval by Secretary Esper, most Guard members were serving under SAD.

SAD is the status most commonly used by governors to call out Guard Soldiers and Airmen during a large-scale disaster.

The status allows maximum flexibility, Lengyel said, ensuring a rapid and effective response, as Guard forces remain under state control with state funding.

If a federal state of emergency is declared, the FEMA can pay for up to 75 percent of the cost.

“This action is one more measure the Department of Defense is taking to assist our interagency partners in the effort to check the advance of COVID-19,” said Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Jonathan Hoffman.

Secretary Esper’s Title 32 (502 F, United States Code) approval Friday authorizes a state activation that is federally funded. In this duty status, the change is how it’s paid for in the long run: Guard members remain under the control of their governors.

“The people who study emergency response say the overall success and effectiveness of the response effort is better when under state control,” Lengyel said. “Governors and adjutants general know best how to apply the resources and people to fix the problem in their state.”