NEW YORK – Forty-two days into the COVID-19 pandemic response mission, The New York National Guard has 3,600 troops performing duties ranging from answering public inquiry hotlines to helping New York City retrieve the remains of those who have died at home.
Along with 2,993 National Guard Soldiers and 452 Airmen, members of the New York Naval Militia and the New York Guard, the state defense force, are also serving.
The emotionally and physically challenging mission of assisting the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of New York City in the dignified recovery of human remains is the toughest mission facing the Soldiers and Airmen, according to Army Maj. Gen. Ray Shields, the adjutant general of New York. There are 255 Soldiers and Airmen handling this mission.
The medical examiner’s office is responsible for the dignified recovery of people who die outside of a hospital. The staff was overwhelmed at the spike in COVID-19-related deaths in the city of 8.5 million people, so city officials turned to the New York National Guard for help.
Now New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen are on duty around the clock helping the medical examiner’s office.
“Your work makes a difference for families at a very critical time of need when their loss is most personal,” Shields told members of the detail April 2.
The mission started with specially trained Airmen of the 107th Attack Wing’s Fatality Search and Recovery Team. As the demands of the mission grew, additional troops were assigned.
Now Soldiers from the 101st Signal Battalion, the 152nd Brigade Engineer Battalion and the 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry, are also handling this duty.
New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen are supporting 10 drive- through COVID-19 test sites run by the state Department of Health. Since the first site opened outside New Rochelle in Westchester County on March 15, 116,126 people have been tested at the locations.
A major mission has been the packaging and delivery of meals. When the mission started, the goal was to provide meals to New Rochelle families whose kids would be missing school lunches because of closed schools. Since then, the meal mission has expanded into a major feeding operation in New York City.
Soldiers and Airmen in New York City have distributed 1,398,947 meals. On April 17, for example, 111,792 meals were provided in New York City. The mission has grown so much that additional Soldiers deployed from western New York to help.
On April 14, 1st Lt. Jessica Reed, a platoon leader in the 2nd Squadron, 101st Cavalry led 25 Soldiers from Niagara Falls to New York City to assist in the food distribution mission in the Bronx. The Soldiers had been preparing for the mission since March, Reed said.
“Word got out that this was a potential thing,” said 1st Lt. Jessica Reed, a member of the squadron’s Bravo Troop. “We had our guys come into armories to fill out paperwork and pack the essential things we knew they might need.”
The food distribution mission in Westchester County has provided 68,333 meals, while Soldiers in Albany County distributed 1,406 meals to people in quarantine.
Soldiers and Airmen are conducting warehouse operations at six locations across New York. They have been moving medical supplies ranging from ventilators to masks, and supplies to keep troops in the field across the state.
It’s not exciting work, but it is important, said Staff Sgt. Stephanie Kimball.
“I feel proud that we can do something in a time of need,” Kimball said. “We want to make sure that all our health care professionals have the personal protection equipment needed to do their jobs and keep themselves safe.”
Another necessary, but not glamorous product being distributed by the New York National Guard is hand sanitizer packaged by the New York State Department of Corrections and Custodial Services. Troops have distributed 35,432 gallons of hand sanitizer in the Hudson Valley.
In Albany, Soldiers and Airmen have been putting together COVID-19 testing kits to support the New York State Department of Health.
On April 17, for example, the Soldiers produced 8,300 kits for a total of 191,000 since the mission began.
“The Guard is helping us out with trying to get as many kits out as we can,” said Alexis Tripodo, a state employee of the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.” They are helping out tremendously with the speed of the completed kits and making sure it’s accurate, making sure every bag is packed correctly.
“The more people we have, the faster we can get these to the sites and the more people we can test,” Tripodo said.
In New York City the New York National Guard continues to support the alternative care facility for COVID-19 patients established at the Jacob Javits Convention Center.
There are 2,100 military medical staff working at Javits and in New York City hospitals. U.S. Army Soldiers of the 44th Medical Brigade are providing staffing at the Javits New York Medical Station. Additional medical staff come from the U.S. Army Reserve, the Navy Reserve, the Air Force and the Civilian Medical Reserve Corps. A total of 2,708 people are working at the alternative care facility, where more than 950 patients have been treated.
New York National Guard members continue to manage the Javits site as the unified command post for the multi-agency response and are providing other logistical and administrative help.
On Easter, as an example of that support, new York Air National Guard Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Jacob Marvel, 109th Airlift Wing, made sure anybody who wanted to receive communion that day had the chance. While ensuring that social distancing protocols were followed, Marvel conducted an abridged Mass for 140 visitors to his temporary chapel at the convention center.
New York National Guard Soldiers are supporting an alternative care facility established at the state’s South Beach Psychiatric Center on Staten Island, as well as working at the Javits location.
A unique medical mission has placed pararescue Airmen of the 106th Rescue Wing at a New York City hospital to assist medical technicians as they care for patients on ventilators.
Soldiers and Airmen have been answering calls to the New York State Department of Health’s Cornoavirus Hotline. Working at a call center in Rotterdam and eventually taking over night and weekend duty, the National Guard members have fielded 183,169 calls since March 11. Those Soldiers and Airmen will move on to other duties April 20.
A call center operation on behalf of New York City will continue. Guard members working there have handled over 4,000 calls.
“Everyone is doing great work,” Shields told the force in an email. “Know that your support is vital to our fellow citizens and is recognized at the highest level by our elected officials.”