The North Carolina National Guard will wind down its COVID-19 relief operations this Friday, July 24, 2020. The NC Guard has been on duty for 135 days supporting North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, North Carolina Department of Public Safety, North Carolina Emergency Management, and local partners across the state. There are currently 286 Guardsmen on COVID-19 duty.
“NCDHHS is incredibly grateful for the tireless work our National Guard colleagues have performed day after day across the state throughout this pandemic. Their dedication and energy have been mission-critical in our efforts to ensure all North Carolinians remained as safe and healthy as possible during these challenging times,” said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen.
The NC Guard will remain on standby with about 250 Guardsmen ready to reengage COVID-19 relief efforts if requested by the state.
“The men and women of our North Carolina National Guard represent the very best in public service. Time and time again, they continue to answer the call as true guardians for our state and nation,” said Public Safety Secretary Erik A. Hooks. “This unprecedented State of Emergency created by the Covid-19 pandemic has challenged us on many fronts and I am extremely grateful for the outstanding service of our soldiers and airmen in our time of need.”
During the height of COVID-19 response, 940 Soldiers and Airmen were activated across North Carolina supporting relief efforts. The NC Guard’s main efforts were to assist Emergency Management with warehouse management and logistics distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) and to support the state’s Food Bank networks and Food Shuttle operations, like Interfaith Food Shuttle. Each day Guardsmen handed out prepared breakfast and lunch meals and essential grocery items like eggs, potatoes, fruits, and canned goods to individuals and families considered at risk of being food insecure.
“We thank the men and women of the National Guard, and we thank their families and their employers for sharing them with us during this pandemic,” said North Carolina Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry. “The National Guard team has provided vital services to our state and we salute them for a mission well done.”
Guardsmen worked in warehouses in central and western North Carolina helping organize, track, and distribute more than 4.3 million masks, 1.6 million bottles of hand sanitizers, 7.9 million gloves, 766 thousand face shields, 234 thousand gowns, 706 thousand shoe covers, and 21 thousand thermometers. NCNG trucks drove over 166 thousand miles delivering food and PPE across the state.
“At the height of the response, we had 425 Soldiers and Airmen on duty solely working warehouse and logistics operations,” said Maj. Kelby Glass, operations officer for the Guard’s Task Force Sustainment. “You call on the National Guard because we have unique skills and resources that our civilian partners don’t have or need to augment.”
The Guard had more than 400 personnel dedicated to assisting food banks across North Carolina delivering food to citizens considered food insecure. The Guard delivered 5.3 million meals, including 332 thousand school lunches across the state.
“These food bank operations across the state are heavily reliant on volunteers and when you have a health crisis like COVID-19, you will immediately lose your volunteers,” said Lt. Col. Kimberly Graham, lead planner for Feeding Support. “There is nobody to move the food… so having our Soldiers help the food banks, school lunches, and food shuttles move that food is a critical service that we had to bring online.”
The COVID19 pandemic created needs across the state never seen before and the NCNG stepped in and filled some unique roles.
The NC Guard proved its worth with its Cyber Security Response Team helping protect state networks by thwarting 15 malicious attacks and 165 phishing emails and other threats, as well as leading virtual seminars on cyber training and best practices to state and business partners. Helicopter Aviators and Maintainers from the 449th Theater Aviation Brigade helped farm and harvest produce at the Interfaith Food Shuttle, in Raleigh. The 878th Engineer Company inspected thousands of eggs in Winston- Salem while Soldiers of the 1-130th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion delivered meals to children out of school in Bladenboro and other eastern communities.
Citizen-Soldiers and Airman graduated from college one day and were on duty the next delivering PPE to senior living facilities and school nurses. NC Army and Air Guard personnel made over 2,000 masks to help protect their fellow Guardsmen on COVID duty. Spanish speaking Guardsmen assisted in interpreting and translating instructions to help food bank families register, and the Guard’s 42nd Civil Support Team COVID tested 380 poultry plant workers and more than 7,100 inmates across the state.
“In our 357-year history, we have never been mobilized for a pandemic even though we have planned for something like this,” said Col. Wes Morrison, NCNG Army chief-of-staff. “I am so proud of the teamwork displayed by our Soldiers and Airmen as they worked directly with NCDHHS, DPS, NCEM, non-profit food banks and county school systems to assist with planning, logistics, distribution, engineering support, COVID testing, and medical contingency planning and support.”
All NC Guardsmen coming off COVID-19 duty are medically screened for the virus and depending on the results, will be released from duty no later than Aug. 7, 2020.
Living up to their motto “Always Ready, Ready Team!, the NC Guard for the remainder of the summer and into the fall, will pivot their efforts and focus on disaster response plans for the upcoming height of hurricane season.