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    NY National Guard COVID-19 response force grows to 2,850 personnel

    NY National Guard responds for Operation COVID-19 across New York City

    Courtesy Photo | New York Army National Guard Spc. Thalio Hinajosa, assigned to Battery B, 1st...... read more read more



    Story by Col. Richard Goldenberg 

    New York National Guard

    LATHAM, N.Y. -- When New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo called on the National Guard to assist in a coronavirus cluster outbreak in New Rochelle, N.Y. March 10, the first 35 Soldiers and Airmen sprinted into action.

    As of April 3, that force has grown to 2,850 personnel around the state who are running a marathon of support to state and local governments.

    This includes 2,380 members of the New York Army National Guard, 340 Air National Guard Airmen, and members of the New York Guard, the state’s self-defense force, and the New York Naval Militia. The New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs civilian workforce is also fully engaged.

    The New York National Guard has six joint task force headquarters operating, with Soldiers and Airmen on duty ready to handle missions from Long Island to Buffalo.

    Cuomo emphasized that this response would be different from past disasters for the Guard in a press conference where he spoke with Guardsmen on March 27.

    “This is not going to be a short deployment. This is not going to be that you go out there for a few days, we work hard and we go home. This is going to be weeks and weeks and weeks,” the governor emphasized.
    “This is a different beast that we're dealing with,” the governor said about the coronavirus. “This is an invisible beast. It is an insidious beast.”

    Maj. Gen. Ray Shields, the adjutant general of New York, also emphasized the long-term nature of the mission in a March 29 message to the force.
    “Everyone's performance and support has been outstanding,” Shields said. “This is going to be a long mission and we all sincerely appreciate everyone's hard work.”

    The Soldiers and Airmen responding were previously on state active duty—with costs and salaries being covered by the state— but the federal government is now picking up the tab for the mission following the president’s authorization of federal funds for the national emergency.

    In addition, Soldiers and Airmen and their families can now be covered by the military’s Tricare health insurance plan, earn retirement credit for their service and receive a housing allowance.

    Most of the missions tasked to the National Guard over the past three weeks have been traditional Guard roles of providing logistical support in an emergency. The Guard has moved thousands of pallets of supplies and delivered meals in Westchester County, New York City and Albany County.

    New York National Guard logistics units have the ability to move 1,230 pallets of equipment daily. Guardsmen are running warehouse operations in the Mohawk Valley, the Albany area and downstate to receive and ship medical supplies forward.

    “We’re getting shipments of medical supplies here every day, numerous trucks at a time,” said Spc. Christopher Clark, a member of Alpha Company, 427th Brigade Support Battalion who was working at the Oriskany warehouse. “We are unloading them, storing them for now and starting soon we are going to be shipping them out to the hot spots.”
    “I feel honored to be a part of this,” Clark added.

    Since the mission started New York, National Guard members have:
    • Packaged 7,850 meals;
    • Distributed 148,626 meals;
    And delivered 17,510 gallons of hand sanitizer.

    Guard Soldiers and Airmen were also tasked initially to help clean public spaces and disinfected over a 1.5 million square feet during March.

    Soldiers have also assembled 22,250 COVID-19 test sets at the New York State Department of Health’s Wadsworth Laboratory in Albany for distribution to test sites and hospitals.

    In addition, four significant missions have evolved since the COVID-19 outbreak in New York, all requiring unique skill sets and capabilities from the New York National Guard.

    Soldiers first provided support to state call centers, helping to take phone calls placed to New York’s Novel Coronavirus Hotline, answering questions and concerns about COVID-19 at an initial call center in Hawthorne, N.Y. on March 11 for two weeks.

    Normally staffed by state employees, the sheer volume of calls required augmentation.

    The mission has since expanded to call centers in Brooklyn, Rotterdam and Schenectady.

    The call centers are a unique touch point for citizens with questions and there has been a huge variation in the number of daily calls as new information about COVID-19 is announced, said Army National Guard 1st Lt. Amanda Hart, the officer in charge of the Rotterdam call center.

    “The fluctuation is usually somewhere between 5,000 to the highest which was approximately 28,000,” Hart said. “It is a grand total to date of approximately 260,000 calls in the past couple weeks.”

    “Although staffing a call center is not what many of us foresaw when we joined the National Guard, it is a way for us to assist our fellow citizens and connect them with the information they need,” said Army National Guard 1st Lt. Michael Flickinger, the officer in charge at the Schenectady site.

    New York National Guard personnel fielded 103,338 phone calls from the public during March.

    As New York State established seven COVID-19 drive through test sites in the hardest hit communities, the National Guard provided support for that mission as well.

    Army National Guard medics and Air Guard medical technicians donned personal protective gear to administer testing in New Rochelle in Westchester, Bear Mountain in Rockland County, Stony Brook and Jones Beach on Long Island, Staten Island and the Bronx, testing more than 3,000 citizens each day and conducting more than 26,700 tests in March.

    The third new mission set for the National Guard was the rapid reception, staging and construction of a Federal Emergency Management Agency Field Hospital at the Javits Convention Center in New York City.

    The Soldiers inventoried and emplaced 1,000 beds in the facility, meant to relieve the strain on New York City hospitals already bracing for the impact of the COVID-19 spread. The New York National Guard also established a unified command post, bringing together a multitude of city, state and federal agencies.

    The troops accomplished the setup and staging in one week, ready to receive the active Army’s 44th Medical Brigade. Medical Soldiers from two Army field hospitals began arriving March 28 to staff the facility.

    “If we had a year to do this we wouldn’t have been able to get it done,” said Col. (Dr.) Jamie Green, the New York Army National Guard medical liaison at the Javits Center. “But we’ve gone and created a hospital in just four to five days. From scratch.”

    Gen. James McConville, the Army Chief of Staff, who met with the Guardsmen who helped put together the hospital March 29, praised them for their efforts.

    Spc. Dylan Massina, assigned to the 104th Military Police Battalion Headquarters, told McConville that he had 24 hours to react to his deployment order and report for duty.

    "I got the call on Tuesday night," Messina said, "and we came in Wednesday (March 25) to be on mission that day."

    Pfc. Mekayly Fullerton, assigned to the 133rd Composite Supply Company, told McConville that her company had been on site for a week, working alongside civilian contractors along with state and federal response agencies to prepare the FEMA field hospital for the arrival of the active Army's 44th Medical Brigade.

    "It really shows what your Army can do when we come together," McConville said.

    Another first was the deployment of an Air National Guard the Fatality Search and Recovery Team. The teams, known as FSRT for short, are trained to conduct a dignified retrieval of remains in a disaster. These teams routinely train as part of the New York National Guard’s Homeland Response Force.

    The team assigned to the 107th Attack Wing in Niagara Falls, deployed March 23 to assist the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in New York City.

    It is one of the most difficult missions, said Air National Guard 1st Lt. Shawn Lavin, commander of the 107th’s FSRT.

    The key concern for city officials is the surge of patients in the coming weeks, and with that, the expected rise in fatalities and the logistics burden it brings, Lavin said.

    “It’s going well,” Lavin said after his first 10 days of missions in New York City. “It’s calmed since we touched down. But everyone understands the gravity of the situation.”

    Anticipating the needs of the city meant deploying additional Soldiers to provide general-purpose support to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, with administrative, transportation and logistical support.

    “My team performed well and continues to perform at a high level,” Lavin said April 1. “They have really met the challenge of this calamity.”

    Shields recognized the important work supporting the medical examiner in a video conversation with the team April 2. The Guard support is doing more than just reducing the workload of the city’s medical examiner.

    “Your work makes a difference for families at a very critical time of need when their loss is most personal,” Shields told Lavin and his team.

    As COVID-19 cases in the state surpassed 92,000 on April 2, protecting the health of the force remains a top priority for New York National Guard Leaders.

    Wellness checks for members arriving for duty across the state include temperature checks and standard operating procedures call for minimizing social interactions for staffs, units and sections preparing for duties.

    Pfc. Melanie Wendling, assigned to the 104th Military Police Headquarters, said her bigger concern was for family, not herself.

    “I'm from Westchester and my family is all up there," Wendling said. "But I'm staying in a hotel here in New York City so I don't have to go home. It's safer that way," she explained.

    On April 1, Cuomo told New Yorkers April 1 that the forecasted peak of pandemic patients might not arrive in New York State until April 28, still some four more weeks away.
    “This is beyond best efforts,” Cuomo said in his press conference April 1. “This is beyond, ‘I'm working very hard.’ We have to get this done. We have succeed. We have to find a way. We have to make it happen, because too much is at stake.”



    Date Taken: 04.03.2020
    Date Posted: 04.03.2020 13:27
    Story ID: 366535
    Location: LATHAM , NY, US 

    Web Views: 277
    Downloads: 2