BOISE, Idaho – Spc. Kyle Shuman grew up an Army brat and wanted to join the Army himself. Five years ago, he enlisted into the Idaho Army National Guard as a 68W combat medic.
“I wanted to follow in my dad’s footsteps,” he said. “He used to say good things about the military. I thought that being in the National Guard would be a good way to serve in my community and still be in the military and have a civilian career.”
Shuman is one of approximately 75 Idaho National Guardsmen helping the Idaho Department of Correction overcome staffing shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gov. Brad Little activated the Idaho National Guard for the fourth time Jan. 31 to support the department and multiple Primary Health Medical Group locations.
Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen are performing non-security duties while the department is severely understaffed.
Shuman helps monitor cameras in a control center at the prison and opens and closes doors as requested by correctional officers. Shuman said Guardsmen performing similar tasks throughout IDOC facilities frees correctional officers to perform security duties and allows inmates to move around the facility normally. Before the Idaho National Guard arrived, inmates spent more time in their cells due to a shortage of correctional officers.
“It makes me feel good to go out there and help the correctional officers with whatever they need help with,” said Sgt. 1st Class Vincent Mele, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the Idaho Guardsmen working at the state’s minimal security facility.
Mele works at the front desk, where he helps sign visitors and staff in and out of the prison and answers the telephone.
“This mission provides a really good perspective on the world that maybe you didn’t have beforehand,” he said. “We all get an idea of what the prison system might be like, and it’s definitely a little different in Idaho than I pictured.”
Guardsmen anticipate assisting IDOC until mid-March. Shuman, Mele and other Guardsmen will then return to their civilian jobs in their respective communities.
“We thank you for everything you’re doing for our staff and residents,” said Warden Timothy Richardson. “Before the Idaho National Guard arrived, at one point we were down to 48% staffing. We realize this is a unique and uncertain environment, but you’ve provided a solid cadre of troops, and we couldn’t ask for a better group at such a critical time.”