CHARLESTON, W.Va. — March 13 marks the one-year anniversary of Gov. Jim Justice mobilizing the West Virginia National Guard to help respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, making it the longest continuous activation of Guard personnel in state history.
“I thank God every day that, when we were in our time of greatest need, the National Guard was there to answer the call and run to the fire,” Justice said. “I could never thank them enough for the leadership, bravery and dedication they have displayed over the past year, and I know that all West Virginians are extremely proud of their efforts.”
Upon mobilization, the WVNG immediately organized multiple task forces to handle specific projected needs.
Task Force Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear Response Enterprise (TF-CRE), which handled operational planning and overall mission support. That included training medical personnel and first responders how to use personal protective equipment and sanitization efforts to combat viral spread.
Task Force Sustainment focused on logistics, stockpiling and distributing PPE and supporting food banks.
Task Force Medical helped with the state COVID-19 hotline operated by the Poison Control Center and coordinated with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources on statistical monitoring and information collection systems for epidemiology support.
Even before the first case of COVID-19 reached the state, the WVNG was working with public and private sector partners at the local, state and federal levels.
Once the pandemic began to take hold in the state, the WVNG's missions evolved, with each task force adding additional roles.
TF-CRE began deploying teams across the state to sanitize schools, government offices, and first responder vehicles, using innovative approaches and techniques.
TF-Sustainment worked with the West Virginia Department of Education to create Wi-Fi access points for students and parents to facilitate virtual learning, including at more than 20 National Guard armories, and helped Workforce West Virginia process backlogged unemployment claims.
TF-Medical began deploying teams around the state to assist with COVID-19 testing and voluntary mapping.
At the height of the response, the WVNG had more than 700 Soldiers and Airmen on duty supporting COVID-19 relief efforts.
By late fall 2020, WVNG efforts grew to include planning for eventual vaccine distribution. On Nov. 30., the governor established the Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) for COVID-19 Vaccines to prepare and implement a vaccination plan for the state. This team, including new Task Force Vaccines (TF-Vaccines), included people from the WVNG, state agencies and private sector partners to ensure a functional statewide whole-of-community approach.
Once vaccine supplies began to flow to the state in mid-December, West Virginia quickly became a national and worldwide leader, recognized for its ability to receive, deliver and administer vaccinations.
The state began targeting the most vulnerable populations to reduce hospitalizations and deaths and ensure critical services could be maintained. West Virginia was the first state to vaccinate residents and staff at all its nursing homes and long-term care facilities. More than 500,000 West Virginians have received at least one vaccine dose.
Throughout the entire grueling response, WVNG members have remained ready to conduct normal responsibilities.
Guardsmen supported the presidential inauguration, responded to flooding and winter storms at home, and continued to operate the Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academies and Future Leader Programs for high school students. The Guard is also engaged in its federal mission, with more than 200 members now deployed around the globe.
“One full year into the longest sustained activation in our history, the men and women of the West Virginia National Guard … our One Guard Family … continue to serve and protect the citizens of West Virginia with all the pride, respect, and love we have always committed to,” said Brig. Gen. William “Bill” Crane, the adjutant general of West Virginia. “... The work they have done over the past year has resulted in lives saved across the Mountain State, and we owe a sincere debt of gratitude to them and all the front-line workers who have been at the forefront of this pandemic response.”
More than 550 WVNG members remain federally activated in the state, authorized to respond to the pandemic through Sept. 30.