RICHMOND, Va. — The mission of about 120 Soldiers and Airmen assigned to the Virginia National Guard’s COVID-19 testing task force has evolved to include support to vaccination clinics run by health departments across the commonwealth.
Beginning in mid-January, one of the task force’s testing strike teams adjusted to support point-of-distribution vaccine clinics across Virginia. Guard members are assisting with logistics and administrative support, including helping direct patients as they park, navigate the clinics and register.
“The vaccination assistance teams are currently working in Roanoke, Charlottesville, and Fredericksburg,” said Lt. Col. Heath Phillips, the task force’s commander. “To date, those three sites have administered over 25,000 inoculations.”
For the Soldiers assigned to support the vaccination sites, it’s a gratifying part of their duty.
“We started as a COVID testing team, and when we got tasked with starting up the POD vaccination team, we took the mission and we ran with it. It’s been very exciting and very rewarding,” said Capt. John Partin, officer in charge of the vaccine support team. “When we get to know we’re having a positive impact on not just the community but the commonwealth as a whole, it’s really rewarding and makes us feel like we’re doing our part.”
“We feel like we’re giving back to the community, helping out our friends and neighbors, making sure they’re all healthy and safe,” said Sgt. Cole Tison, supporting a clinic in Charlottesville. “That’s our main thing - we just want to see everyone good to go and safe.”
Phillips’ task force also had to adjust its mission as VNG began supporting law enforcement in Washington, D.C., ahead of the inauguration of President Joe Biden Jan. 20. The task force helped conduct COVID testing for Soldiers and Airmen called to duty in the nation’s capital.
“The D.C. mission had a very short suspense. Soldiers being called to active duty required PCR testing and the test results within 48 hours so they could safely assume their mission,” Phillips said. “The task force sent teams to the National Capital Region and to Fort Pickett to support the activation.”
While the task force quickly adjusted, the original mission of collecting COVID-19 test samples and personal protective equipment fitting and training continued. Since COVID response operations began in April, VNG personnel have collected more than 160,000 samples and checked thousands of N95 respirator masks for proper fit.
“Each test conducted has the potential to protect the citizens of Virginia from the spread of this virus,” said Phillips. “We have conducted testing in assisted living centers, nursing homes, mental health facilities, colleges, hospitals, and public events all across the state. The endurance, professionalism, and dedication that these Soldiers and Airmen have shown is exemplary.”
Guard members also worked at food banks across the state from April through July, helping distribute nearly 1,350,000 pounds of food.