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NEWS | Dec. 16, 2021

New York National Guard officer honored for COVID response

By Eric Durr, New York National Guard

NEW YORK – The New York Army Guard colonel who administered a COVID-19 field hospital at Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City in 2020 and returned in 2021 to oversee its use as a mass vaccination site has been named a “Whole Health Hero” by a business magazine and health insurer.

Col. Michael Bice, assigned to the New York National Guard Joint Force Headquarters, was one of 25 New Yorkers recognized for their COVID-19 pandemic efforts by Crain’s New York Business and Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield.

The awards, announced Dec. 6, were designed to “recognize exceptional New York leaders who demonstrate a commitment to public safety and wellness in the revitalization and reopening of New York City,” according to the magazine.

The honorees, who included business executives, community groups, health care administrators and officials and doctors, were featured in a special insert in the magazine.

Bice was selected for the honor by Crain’s editors for overseeing logistics operations at the Javits Center, according to Sophia Juarez, the associate director of content for Crain’s.

Bice said he was honored to receive the award but saw it as recognizing everyone who worked at the Javits Center during the pandemic.

“I am accepting this on behalf of all the personnel from the multiple agencies that I had the privilege to lead, and they had the privilege to provide a better future for people,” Bice said.

Bice, a resident of Watertown, is the New York State Police Station commander in Lowville in civilian life.

Before his assignment at New York National Guard headquarters, he commanded the 10th Mountain Division Main Command Post-Operational Detachment, which augments the active Army division headquarters at Fort Drum.

He used his experience with the New York State Police and the military to be successful in both missions at the Javits Center, Bice said.

“My position in the State Police as a supervisor is to respond to incidents and take charge. My job in the military is to be a leader and provide guidance,” he said.

In the spring of 2020, as the COVID pandemic raged in New York City, the New York National Guard worked to convert the convention center into a field hospital to handle overflow patients from the city’s hospitals.

Eventually, 1,095 COVID-19 patients were treated at the facility before it closed May 1, 2020.

Bice was called in to replace the original incident commander at the site and helped close the hospital down.

In January 2021, as New York geared up for a massive COVID-19 vaccination site, Bice was tapped to provide leadership to the 620 New York National Guard and 400 civilian personnel who worked at what became the largest COVID vaccination site in the country.

From Jan. 13 to July 9, 2021, staff at the site administered 647,973 vaccinations.

“I think what we found was the New York National Guard was the best agency to respond to incidents of this type,” Bice said.

“This is what we do, and we had the right personnel to do it with,” Bice said. “While the Department of Health and the other agencies had specific expertise, we have expertise in multiple fields.”

The civilian skills that National Guard Soldiers and Airmen brought to the mission were invaluable, Bice said. For example, one Soldier was a computer expert who devised an online tracking system that provided a minute-by-minute view of vaccine status at Javits and was expanded and used statewide.

“We found out that what people did for a living really mattered,” he said. “We used that civilian skill set to make our operation better.”

The other key lesson, he said, is that convention centers are perfect for this kind of mission because the staff at these centers know how to set things up quickly and work with outside groups.

While he was the one recognized by Crain’s, he couldn’t have been successful without the hundreds of people involved, Bice said, including great military and civilian deputies and an outstanding command sergeant major.

“I am accepting this on behalf of every person in uniform and every front-line civilian worker,” Bice said.