CHARLESTON, W.Va. – “Always ready, Always there” is proving to be the undeniable truth, not just a motto, for West Virginia Army National Guard members serving on the COVID-19 response mission in their hometown hospitals.
“Seeing the difference it makes for nurses in my hometown - who I have known my whole life - makes all the hard work of becoming Soldier worth it,” said Pvt. 1st Class Kristen Denny of Martinsburg. She is working in the Berkley Medical Center in Berkley Springs, W.Va.
“I get to make a difference in my community by taking stress off the nurses so they can focus on the actual medical care of patients,” she said.
The COVID-19 response mission is the first for Denny, who only graduated five months ago from Army basic training and advanced individual training as a carpentry and masonry specialist.
Army Sgt. Steven Ernst of Elkins is a seven-year veteran of the WVNG and has been on the COVID mission since 2020.
Despite the difference of time in service between Denny and Ernst, the gratification of serving fellow West Virginians is the same.
“I am doing what I joined for … to serve not only my country but my home state,” Ernst said. “That is what it is all about.”
Ernst, a mechanic with Delta 230th Forward Support Company, 77th Brigade Troop Command, takes patients’ temperatures and helps with acute care tasks at Preston Memorial Hospital in Kingwood.
“Being able to help my local community, right by my house even, is such a fulfilling feeling,” he said. “We are constantly being thanked by the nurses and doctors for coming in to help, and that means a lot to me.”
Gov. Jim Justice requested assistance from the WVNG Jan. 12. About 25 hospitals around the state asked for help through their county Emergency Operations Center or similar channels.
Maj. Gen. William “Bill” Crane, West Virginia National Guard adjutant general, promised the governor as many as 350 of his troops for hospital assistance. The Guard has mobilized 274 of the promised 350 and continues to train and assign Soldiers and Airmen to centers around the state.
“The role of a National Guard member is being exemplified perfectly by our Soldiers and Airmen and will continue to be any time the state of West Virginia needs us,” Crane said.
The Guard members’ work in the medical centers is not glamorous. Denny changes sheets, provides clean linen for nurses to use, and helps remove waste material.
“Minor maintenance goes a long way,” she said.
Ernst pitches in to provide relief where he can.
“I don’t have a set role here,” Ernst said. “Wherever I am needed, I will go.”