LATHAM, N.Y. – New York National Guard members doubled down on their efforts to help mitigate the spread of the COVID 19 Coronavirus, expanding their presence to more than 2,200 troops on duty on March 26, 2020.
On March 17, the New York National Guard had 900 Soldiers and Airmen–as well as members of the New York Guard, the state defense force, and the New York National Militia—on duty.
From Niagara Falls to Long Island, Soldiers and Airmen are providing logistical and administrative support to state and local government in the efforts to contain the spread of the virus and help fellow New Yorkers.
On March 10, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo directed National Guard forces to assist local communities.
National Guard missions increased dramatically as the disease spread through the communities around the state.
Cuomo implemented “New York on Pause” through an executive order on Sunday evening, March 22, limiting business activities to only essential functions, encouraging all New Yorkers to “stay home, stop the spread and save lives.”
“We know the most effective way to reduce the spread of this virus is through social distancing and density reduction measures,” Cuomo said.
New York National Guard members helped the New York State Department of Health establish and administer six drive-thru COVID 19 testing stations, all located in New York City, Long Island, Westchester and Rockland counties.
Army National Guard combat medics and Air Guard medical technicians joined Department of Health medical providers in gathering samples for testing. Other personnel provide administration, logistics and traffic support at the sites.
While testing is a crucial part of understanding the spread of COVID 19, Guard members were encouraged to take on this unique role, said Air National Guard Command Master Sgt. Karolyn Devito, Medical Superintendent assigned to the 109th Airlift Wing.
“They were super excited, happy to help to be out here and working in such an important way,” Devito said of her team at the Staten Island testing site.
The New York National Guard is in New York City supporting the administration and reception of FEMA Field Hospitals in support of the State Department of Health and NYC officials at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan.
Soldiers from the 133rd Composite Supply Company, part of the 369th Sustainment Brigade, are assisting with the reception and setup of the infrastructure in the convention center’s 1.8 million square feet of space.
Governor Cuomo said that setting up the four 250-bed field hospitals at the site would begin March 25 and take about a week to 10 days. The National Guard will provide a mayors cell and Soldiers to support the 320 federal staff who will operate the site.
Army Guard Soldiers are supporting five warehousing sites to assist the state with emergency supply management and distribution. They are also providing deliveries of New York State procured hand sanitizer to local governments in Westchester and New York City.
As the City of New Rochelle completes its second week of a citywide 14-day stay at home policy after the virus outbreak there March 12, Soldiers and Airmen continue to assist with food packaging and distribution in support of local food pantries.
Other Soldiers are assisting in the cleaning of public spaces across New Rochelle. Teams have cleaned the city hall, the YMCA, the Jewish Community Center and more than a half dozen places of worship.
Still other teams of Soldiers provided assistance March 18-20 to the Westchester County Office of Emergency Management providing county disaster response tents to local hospitals as they prepare for the influx of in patients.
“With all you guys here, we can just bang it out quick,” said Jim Sheridan, a retired Westchester firefighter supporting delivery and placement of tents.
Soldiers on the mission had already performed a variety of missions around New Rochelle.
Pvt. Cindy Ganesh, assigned to the 369th Sustainment Brigade Headquarters, had already provided food distribution and hand sanitizer delivery to communities hit by the outbreak as well as putting up tents at sampling sites over the past week.
“We’re all in this together,” Ganesh said, “so it’s good to be working on different missions.”
With repetition, the Soldiers and firefighters made quick work of the tent mission at the New York-Presbyterian-Hudson Valley Hospital in Cortlandt Manor, N.Y. on March 20.
“Twenty-two minutes, that’s a new record, even for us,” Sheridan said. “Goes to show how fast this goes when we all work together.”
Other missions for the National Guard are more innovative.
Soldiers and Airmen are assisting with staffing state call centers in Rotterdam and Brooklyn. They provide the necessary necessary support to answer community calls and concerns working with state civilian employees.
The Guardsmen, trained to work through a screening process to better answer or direct community inquiries. They are among 577 people who handled more than 26,000 phone calls on March 25.
The unique tasking and grouping of jointly manned strike teams for missions created both challenges and rewards for leaders, said 1st Lt. Michael Flickinger, a leader for one of the call center teams assigned to the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team Headquarters.
“I take a great deal of pride in my team, made up of Soldiers and Airmen from all over New York State,” Flickinger said. “Like myself, they were activated without a detailed understanding of what kind of missions they’d be given. We’ve adjusted to these unique circumstances in a way that gives me confidence we are ready to face whatever comes next.”
New York National Guard Soldiers also helped the Department of Health’s Wadsworth Laboratory in Albany, N.Y. assemble COVID-19 testing kits. In one day’s work the team of Soldiers assembled 22,000 kits.
The New York National Guard has fully committed its forces around the state, establishing a joint task force headquarters in every region to support local governments.
Testing sites on Long Island are coordinated by the New York Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing at Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach.
Operations in New York City to support the Javits Center hospital expansion, sampling sites in the Bronx and Staten Island and support food distribution are led by the state’s homeland security task force based at Fort Hamilton.
Testing in Westchester and Rockland Counties, along with logistics support and operations in New Rochelle are coordinated by the 53rd Troop Command headquarters, based at the New York National Guard training site at Camp Smith, near Peekskill, N.Y.
The 109th Airlift Wing, based at Stratton Air National Guard Base near Schenectady, N.Y., established a task force to handle call support, logistical support and other community missions that might arise in the Albany area.
Current missions to support warehousing emergency supplies in Central New York are coordinated by the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team with support from the 174th Attack Wing at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse, N.Y.
Western New York missions are supported by a joint task force supported by the 153rd Troop Command Headquarters in Buffalo, N.Y. with augmentation from the 107th Attack Wing from Niagara Falls, N.Y.
In a message to leaders, troops and civilian employees, Maj. Gen. Ray Shields, the adjutant general of New York, praised the joint force for working together with so many city, state and federal agencies.
“I am extremely proud of the great work you are doing,” Shields said in a statewide message March 24. “When I visit with you in the field the moral and esprit-de-corps is outstanding.”
Governor Cuomo also emphasized the impact of New York’s resourcefulness when working together.
“We’re going to get through it because we are New York and because we’ve dealt with a lot of things, and because we are smart,” Cuomo said March 24. “You have to be smart to make it in New York. And we are resourceful, and we are showing how resourceful we are. And because we are united, and when you are united, there is nothing you can’t do.”
Airman 1st Class Anthony Walsh of the 106th Rescue Wing echoed the governor’s emphasis on teamwork to contain the spread of the disease.
“It’s not just me showing up one weekend a month,” Walsh said at the Jones Beach testing site on Long Island March 20. “This is why I show up. This is worth it and I’m proud to be here.”