ARLINGTON, Va. – More than 28,000 National Guard members are on duty as part of COVID-19 response efforts, and that number is expected to grow, the Guard’s top general says.
“Over the past few weeks, each day has seen about 1,000 additional Soldiers and Airmen called up throughout the 54 states, territories, and the District of Columbia,” Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, said April 8.
Guard members are supporting COVID-19 testing sites, constructing and staffing alternate care facilities, assisting state agencies in testing analysis, medical care, communication capacities and delivering needed supplies and equipment.
“Nearly three out of every four you see in uniform supporting testing sites, enhancing medical capacity or delivering critically needed medical supplies and food are likely to be Guardsmen and women.” said Lengyel.
In Louisiana alone, said Lengyel, Guard members have delivered more than 600,000 N95 masks, 3 million gloves, 300 ventilators, and nearly 100,000 protective suits to testing sites. Guard Soldiers and Airmen are also working at food banks and have distributed more than 400,000 pounds of food.
“Disasters are not new to us, but like each disaster, this one is unique,” said Army Brig. Gen. Keith Waddell, the adjutant general of the Louisiana National Guard, adding that many Louisiana Guard members have taken on different roles than during typical disaster response.
“We have traded missions like search and rescue and distributing MREs [meals ready-to-eat] and water for swabbing at the drive-through medical testing sites and distributing personal protective equipment – PPE – and ventilators,” he said. “While the products we deliver change, the mechanisms and procedures we use to track and deliver these products have not and, thankfully, we have a lot of experience in this arena.”
The Louisiana Guard has completed more than 600 missions distributing protective equipment and ventilators throughout the state, said Waddell.
“Logistics operations [are] our center of gravity,” he said. “Our team’s goal has been to receive and try to push out all PPE and ventilators within 24 hours of receipt.”
Louisiana Guard members have also had an impact at COVID-19 testing sites, specifically in Louisiana’s Orleans and Jefferson Parishes.
“These Soldiers and Airmen have swabbed over 11,000 symptomatic citizens from these two parishes,” said Waddell. “And we have more medics supporting other medical testing sites throughout Louisiana.”
Louisiana and New York are among the states most affected by COVID-19.
In New York, Guard members have supported nine testing sites screening as many as 5,000 people a day, said Lengyel. Guard members delivered more than 300,000 meals to all five boroughs in New York City and were instrumental in converting the city’s Javits Convention Center into an alternate care facility able to handle up to 2,500 patients.
The Guard has also helped stand up similar facilities in other states.
“We’ve been involved in many ways and are involved in many ways right now working with the [U.S. Army] Corps of Engineers to develop these sites,” said Lengyel, adding that in some instances Guard members have also staffed the care sites.
“In some cases, members of the National Guard from individual states are actually supplying that staff to these alternate care facilities,” he said.
However, said Lengyel, the Guard’s medical capacity is largely designed for a different medical need.
“It’s not the kind of capacity that you need to run hospital kind of operations,” he said. “The medical capacity that we have in the National Guard was built to sustain predominantly combat operations in the battlefield – to get people from point of injury to sustain them until they actually get to a medical facility that is able to treat them for the longer term.”
That doesn’t lessen the medical impact Guard members are able to make, said Lengyel.
“We do have a good number of doctors and nurses and physicians’ assistants and medical technicians that are engaged throughout the entire enterprise,” he said, adding many of those Guard members have civilian careers in the medical field.
“They, too, are serving on the front lines of this response – only in their civilian uniforms,” said Lengyel.
While Guard members continue to be part of COVID-19 response operations, others are deployed overseas.
“We have about the same amount, just under 30,000, that are mobilized Title 10 around the world, that are in the Middle East and in the Pacific and doing other things,” said Lengyel.
And with hurricane season beginning in June, others are planning for potential hurricane response efforts.
“We always plan on a heavy hurricane season,” said Lengyel. “We, in fact, are looking at implications of what it might be like to have to do a hurricane response in a COVID environment.”
Lengyel said he’s been impressed by Guard members’ efforts.
“I am proud of the service all of our Guard members are providing,” he said.