Guardsman’s civilian skills help get troops to missions during COVID-19 crisis

U.S. Army Spc. Koby Riggan, a radio technician with the California Army National Guard’s 270th Military Police Company, works on a Humvee, April 28, 2020, at the Cal Guard's Field Maintenance Shop 22, in Sacramento, California. Since being activated by Gov. Gavin Newsom to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, the Cal Guard has been using these vehicles to support their operational needs for humanitarian missions throughout the state. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Melanie L. Nolen)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — U.S. Army Spc. Koby Riggan is finding himself working long hours and covered in grease from head to toe, but loving every minute of it.

Riggan, a Soldier in the California Army National Guard, is working out of Field Maintenance Shop 22 in Sacramento providing basic maintenance on vehicles in the Cal Guard’s inventory. As a Guardsman, he’s been called up during the COVID-19 pandemic while the California National Guard is actively serving in the community performing humanitarian missions.

What’s unique about his supporting role during the pandemic is that he is not a military-trained mechanic. He is a trained and qualified radio communications technician with the 270th Military Police Company.

Unlike their active-duty counterparts, traditional Guardsmen often have civilian jobs that bring additional skills and utility to their units. When Spc. Riggan is not in uniform, his full-time job is as a lube technician for a Sacramento car dealership.

The Guard’s COVID-19 response saw troop movements up and down the state for a variety of missions, such as supporting food banks and setting up emergency medical facilities. With more use, there was an increase in vehicles breaking down and being designated as dead-lined, which is a term for a vehicle becoming nonoperational for anything from a flat tire to complete engine failure. The 270th Military Police Company command had a need to get the unit’s vehicles repaired. The unit Readiness Noncommissioned Officer knew of Riggan’s civilian background and temporarily assigned him to the maintenance shop.

Because of the pandemic, he had furloughed at his civilian job. When California Gov. Gavin Newsom activated the Guard to conduct relief efforts, some out-of-work service members like Riggan were able to replace their civilian employment with roles in the Cal Guard supporting the state’s relief efforts. Riggan, who provides for his wife and two children while caring for his mother and ailing father, is grateful for the opportunity.

Not every vehicle that needs maintenance is a complete overhaul, and that is where Spc. Riggan comes in. He has been working diligently to service vehicles that need a basic level of wrench turning and battery swapping. “Since I have been here I’ve become more proficient and able to do more things, like replace a water pump or a starter,” said Riggan. His extra hands free up the trained mechanics to tackle the bigger jobs and turn over vehicles faster.

Riggan said he might not be directly helping out civilians, but he did help his fellow Guardsmen get to the food banks by keeping their vehicles running. “I did help get them there, so no matter what, even if you are in the rear, you’re still helping someone out,” he said.

The National Guard requires a commitment of one weekend a month and two weeks a year to fulfill the contractual obligation of service. As any Guardsman can tell you, the time committed to service tends to fall on many occasions, such as birthdays and anniversaries, and can sometimes disrupt family plans.

“I have spent time away because of military duty, but during this activation I get to come home to my family, have dinner with my wife and kids and that makes me feel good to help out and still be with my family,” he said.