LATHAM, N.Y. – A month into the COVID-19 response, the New York National Guard has about 3,500 members on the mission from the eastern tip of Long Island to Buffalo.
The force on COVID-19 response duty in New York includes 2,952 New York Army National Guard Soldiers, 438 Air National Guard Airmen, 75 members of the New York Guard, the state’s self-defense force, and 74 members of the New York Naval Militia.
The New York National Guard established six geographic joint task forces, as well as two joint task forces focused on logistics operations, to support operations statewide.
The most visible National Guard missions are the 450 Soldiers and Airmen supporting 10 New York state COVID-19 testing sites. Guard members provide traffic control and administrative support and Army Guard medics and Air Guard medical technicians help collect samples for testing. The sites have been testing an average of more than 6,000 people daily.
Another 400 Soldiers, Airmen and New York Guard members have been providing logistics support at six warehouses around the state. They also transport supplies as needed.
On April 9, for example, Soldiers moved 50,000 N95 protective masks to 10 hospitals that required resupply.
On April 7, members of the 105th Airlift Wing at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh received 200 ventilators flown across the country by the 146th Airlift Wing of the California Air National Guard. Those ventilators were transported to warehouses by members of the New York Army National Guard’s 369th Sustainment Brigade.
National Guard members in the lower Hudson Valley delivered more than 32,950 gallons of hand sanitizer to local governments and facilities.
Some 400 New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen are supporting an alternative care facility set up in the Javits Convention Center in Manhattan and run by the U.S. Army Soldiers of the 531st and 9th Hospital Centers, part of the 44th Medical Brigade. As of April 11, the facility was caring for more than 300 COVID-19 patients. Another 200 were treated and released.
Other active military medical personnel are working in hospitals across the city to help give civilian medical workers a break.
Ten pararescue Airmen from the 106th Rescue Wing at Gabreski Air National Guard Base at Westhampton Beach are also assisting in civilian facilities. The Airmen are trained as highly qualified emergency medical technicians.
The toughest mission for the Soldiers and Airmen of the New York National Guard, according to Maj. Gen. Ray Shields, adjutant general, is assisting the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of New York City.
Airmen and Soldiers working in teams of four with a civilian from the medical examiner’s office are busy around the clock retrieving human remains from houses and apartments in a dignified manner. The number of remains retrieved by Soldiers and Airmen has varied from 120 to more than 140 per day.
“The city hospitals are at or just about at their capacities,” Air National Guard Lt. Shawn Lavin, the commander of the 107th Attack Wing’s Fatality Search and Recovery Team based at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, told The Buffalo News.
Because the work is emotionally trying, New York National Guard chaplains and behavioral health representatives have been meeting regularly with the Soldiers and Airmen working on this mission.
“Last week was extremely painful and sad for New Yorkers,” Shields wrote in an email to the force April 11. “As of this morning, at least 7,844 of our fellow New Yorkers have died from COVID-19. We all need to take a few minutes and think about the unimaginable loss for the family and friends of those who have died and for the many more who will die over the coming days and weeks.”
Soldiers and Airmen are also taking calls to the New York State COVID-19 hotline. Since this mission began March 11, Guard members have handled more than 162,400 calls from state residents.
Other Guard members have assembled 69,100 COVID-19 test sets for the New York State Department of Health and packed them into boxes of 100 each.
Soldiers and Airmen have also been assisting food pantries and school districts distributing meals.
National Guard members packaged and distributed 714,731 meals in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Manhattan as of April 10.
Similar missions continue in Westchester County in New Rochelle, where 50,757 meal packages were distributed, and Albany County, where 833 meals were delivered to quarantined residents.
“The good news is the curve is continuing to flatten,” Cuomo said in his April 11 news conference. “The number of hospitalizations appears to have hit an apex, and the apex appears to be a plateau … the numbers are on the downward slope.”
“But as Winston Churchill said, ‘Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.’ ”