NY National Guard has 3,500 on duty to fight COVID-19

New York Army National Guard Spc. Gilliam-Gray Shawnese assigned to the 101st Expeditionary Signal Battalion, 369th Sustainment Brigade, New York Army National Guard gives instructions to people in their vehicles at the COVID-19 Mobile Testing Center in Glenn Island Park, New Rochelle, Apr. 8, 2020. The New York National Guard continues support at seven drive-thru testing sites. Soldiers and Airmen are collecting samples and providing general-purpose support at the testing locations, now exceeding 5,000 tests per day in total. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Jonathan Pietrantoni)
April 12, 2020

LATHAM, N.Y. – A month into the COVID-19 response mission, the New York National Guard reported 3,529 personnel on the mission on April 11, 2020.

The bulk of that force is on duty in New York City, Long Island and Westchester County, but New York National Guard personnel are at work from the eastern tip of Long Island to Buffalo.

The force on COVID-19 response duty in New York includes 2,952 New York Army National Guard Soldiers, 438 Air National Guard Airmen, 75 members of the New York Guard, the state’s self-defense force, and 74 members of the New York Naval Militia.

The New York National Guard established six geographic joint task forces, as well as two joint task forces focused on logistics operations, to support operations statewide.

The most visible National Guard missions are the Soldiers and Airmen supporting ten New York State run COVID-19 testing sites. Guard members provide traffic control and administrative support and Army Guard medics and Air Guard medical technicians help collect samples for testing.

Currently 450 New York National Guard members support sites located at:
• SUNY Stony Brook;
• Jones Beach State Park; Staten Island;
• Glen Island State Park in Westchester County;
• The Anthony Wayne Service area in Rockland County;
• Lehman College and the Bay Plaza Mall in the Bronx;
• Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens;
• Brooklyn at a retail store parking lot in Flatbush;
And at the SUNY Albany campus in Albany.

The sites have been testing an average of more than 6,000 people daily.

Another 400 Soldiers, Airmen, and New York Guard members have been providing logistics support at six warehouse locations around the state. They also transport supplies as needed.

On Thursday, April 9, for example, Solders moved 50,000 N95 protective masks to ten hospitals that required resupply.

On Tuesday, April 7, personnel assigned to the 105th Airlift Wing at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh received 200 ventilators flown across the country by the 146th Airlift Wing of the California Air National Guard. Those ventilators were then transported to warehouses by members of the New York Army National Guard’s 369th Sustainment Brigade.

Hand sanitizer warehousing and distribution is also being conducted by National Guard personnel in the lower Hudson Valley. More than 32,950 gallons of hand sanitizer have been delivered to local governments and facilities.

Four hundred New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen are supporting the Javits New York Medical Station, an alternative care facility established in the Javits Convention Center on the west side of Manhattan, and run by the U.S. Army Soldiers of the 531st and 9th Hospital Centers, part of the 44th Medical Brigade. As of Saturday, April 11, the facility was providing care for more than 300 COVID-19 patients. Another 200 received treatment and were released home.

Other Active military medical personnel have arrived in New York and are working in hospitals across the city to help give civilian medical personnel a break.

Along with that initiative, 10 pararescue Airmen from the 106th Rescue Wing at Gabreski Air National Guard Base at Westhampton Beach are also assisting in civilian facilities. The Airmen are trained as highly qualified emergency medical technicians.

The toughest mission for the Soldiers and Airmen of the New York National Guard, according to Major General Ray Shields, is that of assisting the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of New York City.
Airmen and Soldiers working in teams of four with a civilian from the Medical Examiner’s office are busy around the clock retrieving human remains from houses and apartments in a dignified manner. The number of deaths taking place in homes have increased across New York City. The number of remains retrieved by Soldiers and Airmen has varied from 120 to more than 140 per day.

“The city hospitals are at or just about at their capacities,” Air National Guard Lt. Shawn Lavin, the commander of the 107th Attack Wing’s Fatality Search and Recovery Team based at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, told the Buffalo News. “Most people have an idea of what that means for doctors and nurses. But it is also having a “downstream impact,” Lavin said, on hospital morgues and funeral homes.

“That’s our role – helping that flow,” Lavin told the newspaper.

Because the work is emotionally trying, New York National Guard chaplains and Behavioral Health representatives have been meeting regularly with the Soldiers and Airmen working on this mission.

The missions often involve carrying remains down stairs in elevator less buildings. It is physically demanding as well as emotionally demanding, according to Lavin.

While Lavin’s team is specially trained in the mission, other National Guard personnel go through a half-day course taught by the Medical Examiner’s office before going on the detail.

In an e-mail to the force on April 11, Shields pointed out that the past week, during which daily deaths increased in New York, has been a hard one for everyone .

“Last week was extremely painful and sad for New Yorkers. As of this morning, at least 7,844 of our fellow New Yorkers have died from COVID-19,” Shields wrote. “We all need to take a few minutes and think about the unimaginable loss for the family and friends of those who have died and for the many more who will die over the coming days and weeks.”

New York National Guard Airmen have also continued to conduct other missions unique to the COVID-19 mission.

Soldiers and Airmen are taking night and weekend calls to the New York State COVID-19 hotline working from a Call Center in Rotterdam, N.Y. run by the Office of Taxation and Finance. On April 9 the military personnel answered 3,143 calls.

Since this mission began on March 11, New York National Guard members have handled more than 162,400 phone calls from state residents.

Other Guardsmen have been busy assembling COVID-19 test sets for the New York State Department of Health. As of April 9, the team had put together 69,100 test kits and packed them into boxes of 100 each.

New York National Guard Soldiers are providing administrative support at 911 call centers in New York City as well.

Soldiers and Airmen have also been assisting food pantries and school districts in getting meals and food to people who count on those meals.

National Guard personnel have been conducting food packaging and distribution in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Manhattan in New York City. Soldiers have distributed 714,731 meals at those sites as of April 10.

Similar missions continue in Westchester County in New Rochelle, where 50,757 meal packages have been distributed, and Albany County where 833 meals have been delivered to quarantined residents.

“The good news is the curve is continuing to flatten,” Cuomo said in his April 11 press conference. “The number of hospitalizations appears to have hit an apex, and the apex appears to be a plateau…the numbers are on the downward slope.”

“But as Winston Churchill said, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning,”” Cuomo said.