Warm Springs leaders, Oregon National Guard discuss COVID-19 support

Oregon Army National Guard Land Component Commander Brig. Gen. William Prendergast IV participates in a group discussion with members of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs, April 21, 2020 at the Warm Springs reservation, Warm Springs, Oregon. A delegation from the Oregon National Guard were invited to visit the tribe and discuss working together to support personal protective equipment (PPE) needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. (National Guard photo by John Hughel, Oregon Military Department)
April 23, 2020

Warm Springs, Ore. – As part of the ongoing response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Oregon National Guard is helping to consolidate and distribute critical personal protective equipment (PPE) to medical and assisted living facilities, as well as tribal nations throughout the state.

The shortage of PPE has strained many communities around the country. To stem the stressed resource needs caused by COVID-19, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) has focused the delivery of emergency shipments to underserved communities such as the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs.

With key leaders from the Oregon Army National Guard traveling to meet with tribal leaders on April 21, 2020, a series of briefings helped renew the relationship between both parties and reinforce the states’ overall response to the COVID-19 epidemic.

“It’s important that we have adequate PPE because every time we have new testing capabilities come in the door, we immediately look at our PPE supply and surmise if we have enough to match that response,” said Hyllis Dauphinais, the local Incident Commander (IC) for the Warm Springs reservation during the COVID-19 outbreak.

During the Incident Command System (ICS) morning briefing, everyone adhered to the recommended guidance to maintain their physical distance and wear protective masks in order to help slow the spread of the virus. Dauphinais said that using a cloth mask, as most were wearing, also helps conserve the medical masks needed by health care workers interacting directly with patients.

“We’re trying not to ‘take-up’ a medical or procedural mask when we are not in direct proximity to each other…this will help extend our supply,” he said.

The reservation land of the Warm Springs, Wasco and Paiute Native American Tribes resides from the Cascade Mountains and along the Deschutes River, extending over 1,000 square miles of picturesque Central Oregon landscape. The tribe’s economic base thrives on the enterprises of natural resource forest products, hydroelectric power and agricultural production. They also draw income from casino revenues and a nationally renowned tribal museum.

The coronavirus outbreak has put a sizeable economic strain on these jobs and the ability to return to work; re-opening tribal commerce is dependent on having enough PPE for workers and visitors. Dauphinais estimated that the casino might open as early as June. “The closure impacts nearly 140 staff and employees who are really struggling now.”

The meeting underscored an infrequent occurrence between the tribe and the Oregon National Guard too. Addressing the group during the briefing, Danny Martinez, the emergency manager and IC for the Confederated Tribes, acknowledged the uniqueness of the moment.

“We talk about this every day; trust responsibility…and this goes back to 1855,” he said, detailing the confidential bond with sovereign nations. “This doesn’t allow the state jurisdiction, but we work in partnership…not so much a government to government policy…but more in that trusted understanding, and that’s what’s so great to have both parties here today. This is history in the making!”

As a representative for Oregon National Guard, Brig. Gen. William J. Prendergast IV, Land Component Commander for the Oregon Army National Guard, was appreciative of the invitation to visit the reservation.

“Thank you so much, we understand the urgent need for PPE in response to COVID-19,” he said.

Prendergast was impressed with the Incident Command System process that was part of the morning briefing and noted the time-tested adage, “All emergencies are local — and this is truly spectacular to see how this team here is able to identify the key issues and address them quickly.”

ICS Finance Section Chief Yvonne Iverson, who had been tracking all the PPE supply prior to the heavy demand from the COVID-19 outbreak, detected those rapid assessments.

“I just wanted to note that we have been tracking the PPE in our warehouse and we got down to just enough for a few days….so with your help (the Oregon National Guard) and Danny’s help, we were able to receive enough PPE for our present needs,” she said, recounting all the ongoing challenges that the pandemic’s outbreak has presented.

“We now have enough PPE to adhere to the new guidance of wearing a mask at all times and more importantly, to last for another 53 days,” Iverson said. “We are sitting in a good spot, but we started off in rough shape.”

The Oregon National Guard has been delivering PPE from the Oregon Department of Administrative Service (DAS) warehouse in Wilsonville to seven major hubs around the state, which in turn serve to ensure PPE reaches all 36 counties and nine tribal nations.

“The big thing for us is serving our communities,” said Army National Guard Lt. Col. Philip DeMontigny, Task Force Assurance Commander, who is overseeing the operations at the Wilsonville warehouse for the Oregon Army National Guard.

“Our Soldiers are highly motivated to do this because they know they are helping Oregonians,” he told those gathered at the meeting. “I can’t wait to tell my Soldiers later this afternoon that, ‘hey this is how it looks in Warm Springs’ and this is the importance of what you’re doing in this community.”

The tribal leaders say they welcome the assistance and ongoing support from the National Guard. “There has been a spirit of cooperation over the years, especially with respecting our air space over tribal lands,” said Tribal Council Chairman Raymond Tsumpti.

“With search and rescue operations, as well as recovery efforts in the past, the National Guard has always responded in kind, and we appreciate that.”

While presenting a lithograph of a World War II era 41st Division Soldier to Tsumpti and the tribe, Prendergast emphasized how he sees more opportunities to grow closer with many of the tribal nations around the state.

“We are all one community within the four walls of the state of Oregon,” Prendergast said. “We may be of different cultures but it’s us coming together, and I see how the National Guard can help bridge some of that gap.”

Also accompanying Prendergast and DeMontigny as part of the National Guard delegation was Command Senior Enlisted Leader for Oregon, Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Foesch. He drew a parallel to younger members of the tribe and many of the Soldiers he directs.

“There is a shared sense of community and an energy to be part of a larger group, whether it’s through working together as a team, setting physical fitness challenges or simply wanting to give something back to the community,” he said.

In many ways that same warrior spirit will need to be summoned to overcome the sustained challenges ahead in defeating the complexities of the coronavirus throughout the state and around the nation. By building these partnerships, both parties were able to express a willingness to find common ground solutions.

“When we all look at life, there will always be these outliers,” Prendergast said, assessing the current circumstances with the COVID-19 outbreak. “But that’s why we’re all here, to address that challenge and be successful in helping our communities.”

“It’s people like yourself…making the difference in a time of tremendous need.”