ARLINGTON, Va. – The National Guard has been an integral part of ensuring many older Americans remain healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Guard’s top general said during a White House event Thursday. The general was introduced by President Donald Trump and invited to the podium to speak about the Guard’s role.
“In many states, governors have directed National Guard members to help sanitize long term care facilities [and] nursing homes, giving older citizens – and families and caregivers – peace of mind that their environments are safe,” said Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, during a ceremony marking the signing of a presidential proclamation naming May as Older Americans Month.
More than 45,000 Guard members are on duty on a variety of missions throughout the 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia as part of COVID-19 response efforts, said Lengyel.
“From running hundreds of testing sites around the country to screening passengers at airports to helping manufacture PPE [personal protective equipment] to a myriad of tasks, the National Guard is there,” said Lengyel.
But those missions that affect older individuals have additional importance, he said.
“We know this virus doesn’t treat everyone equally,” said Lengyel. “Our senior citizens are at increased risk.”
The Georgia National Guard has disinfected and sanitized more than 700 nursing homes and senior care facilities in that state, said Lengyel.
“This has been replicated at many places around the nation, and [the mission] continues to grow,” he said.
Guard members have also been filling in at food banks and homeless shelters.
“In normal times, these are often staffed by volunteers, many of them … senior citizens,” said Lengyel. “Now, volunteering puts those great Americans at increased risk. So, the National Guard is helping these Americans stay clear of this risk.”
Guard members have also been working with those food banks to distribute food to those who need it.
“The need for food assistance is increasing across the nation as this virus continues to persist,” said Lengyel.
In addition to the 45,000 Guard members responding to the COVID-19 outbreak, another 38,000 Guard members are deployed overseas or supporting other missions at home.
Being able to support both the stateside and overseas missions is something unique to the Guard, said Lengyel.
“The National Guard is a big part of the United States Army and the United States Air Force and we’re proud of that,” he said. “But this role that we play here at home, in the homeland under the command of the governors in our states, is distinctly and uniquely National Guard business.”
Lengyel said that flexibility speaks volumes about the Guard’s capabilities.
“I’m very proud of the National Guard and all they are doing to help keep our nation safe here at home and abroad,” he said.