South Carolina National Guard soldiers step up to help during COVID-19 crisis

U.S. Army National Guard Soldiers with Joint Task Force 59, South Carolina National Guard, support Oliver Gospel in serving meals and maintaining social distancing for the homeless community in Columbia, South Carolina, April 14, 2020. The South Carolina National Guard remains ready to support the counties, local and state agencies, and first responders with requested resources for as long as needed in support of COVID-19 response efforts in the state. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Joe Cashion, South Carolina National Guard)

COLUMBIA, S.C. – U.S. Army National Guard Soldiers with Joint Task Force 59 (JTF 59), South Carolina National Guard, began supporting an ongoing mission in April 2020 at the Oliver Gospel, an organization that volunteers to feed the needy and homeless community in Columbia.

“We are excited to have the National Guard at the Oliver Gospel because we’ve been experiencing an increase in the men, women and children here for our evening meal,” said Travis McNeal, Oliver Gospel executive director. “Our team can’t call volunteers from their homes because we want them staying there [according to the governor’s guidelines], so we asked to utilize the great services of our National Guard to help us.”

In addition to helping Oliver Gospel guests maintain a safe distance, the South Carolina National Guard Soldiers are also helping with preparing and serving meals each evening.

McNeal mentioned, there’s been an increase in the amount of meals served in the recent days prior to the National Guard coming to help and, with that, the need to keep people properly distanced on the sidewalk outside.

“We’ve painted lines on the sidewalk to help our guests know where to stand and we have our awesome National Guard here to help us with that. To have a smiles on their faces, to greet our guests, and ensure safety,” McNeal said.

Giving back to the community during a critical time is certainly a source of pride for JTF 59 commander, U.S. Army Col. Timothy Wood.

“Not only does the Oliver Gospel Mission provide our Soldiers the opportunity to support the South Carolina COVID-19 response, but this specific mission provides a rare opportunity to give direct assistance to those who may already have significant needs,” said Wood. “These types of missions remind us of our virtue to support humanity and how we can selflessly waive our own interests to help others in need.”

For the South Carolina National Guard Soldiers taking part in support of Oliver Gospel, it has certainly made an impact on them.

“It gives you a good feeling inside actually helping somebody,” said U.S. Army Spc. Kaymah Archie, 1050th Transportation Battalion, Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment culinary specialist. “I got a little emotional for me being so young and experiencing something like this for the first time.”

Wood mentioned, how different this mission is from ones they have undertaken before in times of homeland crises.

“Many of our previous missions have indirectly supported counties and communities with supplies and services,” Wood said. “This mission is unique because it provides direct face-to-face interaction with those in need.”

For his part, McNeal said Oliver Gospel working with the South Carolina National Guard during this pandemic is all about one word – service.

“It’s a blessing to serve and it’s a blessing to have the National Guard serve here with us,” said McNeal.