MADISON, Wis. – More than 20 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the Wisconsin National Guard continues to fulfill a variety of roles for the state.
Approximately 500 Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen are assisting communities with COVID-19 testing and vaccinations and helping manage the state’s vaccine stockpiles.
In recent weeks, some of those troops have taken on a new role – serving as temporary nursing assistants at four state mental health facilities at the request of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Approximately 60 Wisconsin National Guard troops completed a multi-day training regimen to assist with basic tasks and functions to help health care workers at the facilities they’re supporting. They are also completing a 59-hour certified nursing assistant program under the supervision of registered nurses at each facility.
The number of Wisconsin National Guard troops mobilized for the pandemic response has ebbed and flowed since the first troops mobilized in March 2020. At one point in the spring of 2020, more than 1,400 troops were mobilized. They conducted COVID testing, staffed a state call center that informed people of their test results, assisted county medical examiners, staffed self-isolation facilities for people who didn’t have the means to effectively self-isolate, assisted at a short-staffed senior living facility, and transported a group of Wisconsin residents home after they were exposed to COVID in the earliest days of the pandemic.
Others trained to perform the temporary nursing assistant role at Wisconsin State Fair Park in case additional support was needed at the state’s alternate care facility.
Despite many missions and roles and a long-lasting mobilization, Guard members continue to find inspiration to serve their fellow citizens and communities.
“For me, it’s the people,” said Wisconsin Air National Guard Master Sgt. Emily Decker, a company first sergeant on the COVID-19 task force. “It’s always about the people and how much we need each other in so many ways and how much good we can accomplish together in difficult times.”
Since the pandemic began, the Guard has administered approximately 1.2 million COVID tests across the state. When vaccines became available in early 2021, the Guard assisted with mobile and community vaccination teams, helping administer more than 230,000 vaccines.
By the fall of 2021, only a few hundred troops remained mobilized. But additional troops mobilized on a voluntary basis as new variants increased demand for testing and vaccinations.
The mobilization for COVID-19 represents the longest sustained domestic mobilization in Wisconsin National Guard history. Wisconsin troops have mobilized throughout history in support of overseas combat operations in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, both world wars, the Spanish-American War, and the Civil War, but never have so many troops mobilized for so long here in Wisconsin.