ARLINGTON, Va. — Ten million moms, dads, grandparents, friends, co-workers and neighbors are now vaccinated thanks to the ongoing efforts of National Guard members who are administering shots “in the communities where they live and serve.”
Those words came from Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, during a media roundtable from the Pentagon yesterday.
“As I speak, more than 2,200 Guard members are giving more than 135,000 vaccines a day at 805 static and mobile sites across the country,” said Hokanson. “They are a part of the 32,000 National Guard Soldiers and Airmen – more than 7 percent of our force -- who continue to support vaccination efforts, food banks, testing and screening sites, and other COVID-related missions.”
Hokanson pointed out one of the Guard’s first COVID missions involved a California Air National Guard HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter crew that delivered COVID-19 test kits to stranded passengers aboard a cruise ship in the early days of the pandemic. That crew, he added, is now serving overseas.
“Make no mistake,” Hokanson said, “the investment America has made to ensure the National Guard is ready for its combat mission is paying dividends in our homeland response.”
He added that surpassing the 10 million mark can be chalked up to keeping in close contact with state adjutants general and senior Guard medical leaders who “really have the pulse of the community.”
“They find that balance,” Hokanson said. “We’re cautious not to overtax the health care system while best utilizing medical professionals for the entire community.”
As a result, the civilian health care sector has not reported any strain involving health care personnel who are also Guard members, said Air Force Maj. Gen. Jerry L. Fenwick, director of the NGB’s Office of the Joint Surgeon.
“We have not seen significant degradation in the civilian health care sector from our folks who are providing the vaccinations,” said Fenwick. “As we move toward decreasing some of the mission sets — particularly with vaccinations — we will be able to get these people back in the hospitals.”
As one of those Guard health care professionals, Army Staff Sgt. Shavonne Santiago, a medical section noncommissioned officer in charge of the Massachusetts Army National Guard’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 101st Engineer Battalion, said her team relies on assistance from non-medical Soldiers to help meet the current demand for more vaccines.
“Even if they are just screening patients, drawing up medications or documenting [patient] information in a computer, it’s incredible how quickly we can find and train them to keep up with demand,” she said.
Santiago added the importance of the mission is never lost on her team.
“We all volunteered to be here with the understanding of the severity of this situation — not just for our country, but for our world – as this pandemic is still very much active,” said Santiago, adding that it’s “pride and compassion” that inspires her team “to get our boots on the ground to administer as many vaccines as possible to help save lives.”