An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Home : News
NEWS | April 23, 2020

NY Army Guard members reflect on Javits Center COVID-19 response

By Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy National Guard Bureau

ARLINGTON, Va. – For Spc. Dwayne Richards, an information technology specialist with the New York Army National Guard’s 101st Expeditionary Signal Battalion, being on duty at New York City’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center as part of COVID-19 response efforts has meant sometimes missing an important nightly ritual back home.

“The challenges I face at the Javits Center include just being away from my family,” he said. “You know, being able to read to my boys every night.”

But he still tries to do that as often as he can.

“I compensate by getting on [video teleconferencing], reading to them and then singing them to bed,” he said.

And though he’d rather be home, Richards is also proud of the work he’s been doing in New York City.

“I’m most proud of the overall capacity in which I serve,” he said. “The ability to serve and make a big difference in just being here.”

Richards is part of the team keeping the computers and related equipment functioning at the Javits Center, handling support calls from those working throughout the center’s sprawling hallways.

“My role here at the incident command center is information technology support,” he said. “So, help desk user support, whether it be passwords or anything to do with their machine, or getting their job done, information technology-wise.”

The Javits Center has been one of the largest COVID-19 response efforts in the New York area. But transitioning it from a convention hall to a hospital capable of handling more than 4,000 patients was no easy task.

“The challenges are the sheer number of agencies and personnel that are here right now,” said Army Col. Dennis C. Deeley, the intelligence officer with the New York National Guard, and the incident commander at the Javits Center.

More than 2,200 people from city, state and federal agencies and all branches of the military are working at the center, said Deeley.

“This is different because of [the] magnitude of what we’re dealing with,” he said, adding that he served as a task force commander during Hurricane Sandy response operations in 2012.

“This is just far bigger than that,” he said.

For Army Sgt. Maj. Robert Jenks, with the New York Army Guard’s 53rd Digital Liaison Detachment and sergeant major of the Javits Center incident command, the response efforts are similar to those he was involved with in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“It’s very similar in scope as far as assembling a large group of people to accomplish a mission,” he said.

Turning the center into a hospital is also a mission unlike any Jenks has taken part in previously.

“Comparing it to other things is hard because I’ve never built a hospital before,” he said.

Others marveled at that as well.

“We’ve created in four weeks a hospital that’s bigger than [almost] any other hospital in the country,” said Army Col. Jamie Green, commander of the New York Army National Guard’s Medical Command. “[We’ve done] it in four weeks from scratch, turning a convention center into a hospital.”

Building out that capability, while integrating multiple agencies into that effort, stands out for Army Lt. Col. Marshall Hunt, commander of the New York Army Guard’s 104th Military Police Battalion and chief of staff of the incident command at Javits.

“Working with all the different, multiple agencies, working with a group of people, bringing them all together, synchronizing and integrating them into one unified effort to build this medical facility here has been challenging, but also rewarding,” he said.

For some, simply being at the Javits Center stands out.

“I’m a Manhattanite, born and raised,” said Army 1st Lt. James Rucinski, the assistant personnel officer with the New York Army Guard’s Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 104th MP Battalion. “Something I’m very proud of is to be mobilized right here in my hometown and be at the epicenter of the whole thing. It feels like the eyes of the world are on us right now.”

And others have been at Javits before.

“This is kind of like a 20-year reunion for me,” said Army Sgt. Maj. Morgan Cody, the sergeant major of the 104th MP Battalion and noncommissioned officer in charge of security at the Javits Center. “I was a 9/11 responder. We actually stayed in the Javits Center after 9/11 for about a month, right down on the first floor. So, it’s kind of a very similar thing.”

Though there is one marked difference.

“Of course, back then I was Pfc. Cady and not Sgt. Maj. Cady,” he said.

Cady added he’s been impressed by what those at the Javits Center have done.

“It’s a pretty incredible feat what we’ve achieved here as a team to get something of this scale done in the time we’ve done it,” he said.

Others agreed.

“The effort, time and the dedication is what I really am most proud of here,” said Jenks, adding that it is a core mission set for the National Guard.

“We have our federal mission, which is the away game – that would be possibly overseas in a combat zone on a deployment – and this is the home mission,” he said. “This is a great mission because we’re here to save lives and mitigate disasters.”

Though for some the experience has been somewhat odd.


“It’s a little surreal,” said Hunt. “It’s a little different coming down here and seeing New York City kind of almost like in a frozen state, as folks all pay attention to the social distancing. I’m used to the busyness of Manhattan and the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple.”

That is a good thing, he said.

“While it’s different, it’s also good to see that the citizens are all abiding and hopefully that’s going to flatten the curve,” Hunt said.

And the Javits Center is set up to assist with that as well.

“In this case, we’re here really saving lives,” said Jenks, “building the capacity so the hospitals here in the state of New York, principally here within New York City, are able to offload patients that they are not able to accept or [if] they need more capacity in another location.”

It’s also just fine if many of those beds go unused, said Green.

“If it’s not being used to its capacity, that’s actually a good thing because that means less people are sick or need it,” he said. “It’s OK if we build this thing and nobody comes, because at least it was there for the City of New York.”

And simply being there when needed, said Green, is the important part.

“Everybody at ground level worked together,” he said. “Everyone was motivated to get this done in an extremely short time.”

Senior Airman Sean Madden contributed to this report.