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NEWS | July 14, 2020

Guard adapts to changing missions during COVID-19 response

By Joseph Siemandel Washington National Guard

CAMP MURRAY, Wash. – While many across the state are returning to work, hundreds of Soldiers and Airmen of the Washington National Guard continue to support the COVID-19 response.

Since April, Guard members have been helping the state get through the worst pandemic since the Spanish Flu of 1918. But some of the jobs they are performing have changed.

“When I first started on orders, I was working at a test site in Bremerton, but now I am making the test kits,” said Spc. Dameon Spurgeon, a motor transportation operator with 1041st Transportation Company out of Montesano. “I was confused at first why we were wearing protective suits and PAPR masks, but then we started testing people and it made sense; we were interacting directly with individuals that could have the virus.”

Spurgeon is one of more than 1,000 members of the Washington National Guard activated to support the COVID response. They continue to support food banks, conduct COVID mapping, operate community-based test sites, assemble test kits and process unemployment claims. Spurgeon is part of a team making more than 2.4 million test kits for the state by the end of August.

“I know this mission is critical, and we are running very smoothly,” he said. “I think we are expected to break 1 million next week.”

An aquatics manager at Great Wolf Lodge and reserve police officer in Tenino, Spurgeon says supporting the COVID response is just part of what he likes to do – helping those in need. In 2017, he was activated to fill sandbags in response to a flood in the small eastern Washington town of Sprague.

“I have always wanted to help our communities, whether it is being a lifeguard, a police officer or a Guardsmen. I am just happy to help,” said Spurgeon.

While the number of food bank missions has been cut in half as volunteers are returning, some Guard members have been moved from the larger processing missions in Seattle to the food banks to work with the public.

“The interactions with people are overwhelming,” said Spc. Alex Wanjiku. “While at SODO, although we knew we were, it didn’t seem like we were helping out. But moving from the warehouse to here, I now see it.”

Wanjiku moved to America from Kenya three years ago and immediately joined the Guard because he wanted to assist others Since being activated, he has gone from processing food at the South Seattle warehouse locations to passing out food at the St. Leo’s Food Bank in Tacoma.

“Here I am, seeing the people I am helping and they are so grateful,” he said.

Sgt. Nikko Ethridge, a cavalry scout and full-time corrections officer for the Department of Corrections, also started at the SODO warehouse. He has supported two different activations, moving to the civil disturbance mission in June.

“The people in Bellevue were so supportive of the Guard being there and it was a nice break from the food bank mission,” Ethridge said.

Ethridge used the break to move to the Kent Distribution center, which was closer to home, and then to the St. Leo’s Food Bank.

“At the warehouse, you are packing food and it’s easy to forget about the mission. But here you see where the food is going,” said Ethridge. “We are working more hours here, have less breaks, but you never would know it. It is definitely more rewarding.”

All three said they plan to support the mission for the duration, and if they move to different locations or jobs, they are happy to do whatever to assist others.

“I love the state, like helping people and what is a better way than working for the National Guard to do that,” said Ethridge.