LANDOVER, Md. -- In the shadow of the Washington Redskins football stadium, a group of Soldiers shielded a section of the parking lot filled with tents serving as testing centers for the COVID-19 virus.
Part of the Maryland National Guard’s response, the site is one of several that continue to stand up across the country as Soldiers swap their weapons for masks and gloves.
“They are at the tip of the spear in this fight,” Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy said Tuesday after visiting with Soldiers at the site. “We are fighting for our neighborhoods. We are fighting to endure a very difficult and invisible enemy.”
Array of capabilities
More than 10,000 Guard members have already been mobilized to assist state and national agencies stem the spread of the virus. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has also found over 100 sites it could retrofit to help local hospitals deal with patient overflow.
The U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command at nearby Fort Detrick, Maryland, is currently working on preventative measures for the virus.
McCarthy named the command a “national treasure” that has been involved in antivirals and vaccination efforts with national laboratories and private industry on five different tracts that have 24 different candidates for potential vaccines.
He then thanked Congress for passing the $2.2 trillion coronavirus rescue package that is partly helping fund the Army’s response.
“From first responding to research, we have a vast array of capabilities that can support all of our citizens,” he said.
During his visits with Soldiers on the frontline, the secretary said he has been most impressed with their focus on the mission and discipline of using personal protective equipment and social distancing.
“Every one of those sets of gloves and masks are like bullets,” he said. “We need those in this fight.”
With an uncertain timeline for this outbreak, McCarthy stressed that all Soldiers should follow the right safety protocols and be prepared to step in to help if called upon.
“It’s important to take care of yourself, take care of your families and be ready to respond because our neighborhoods need our help,” he said.
When duty calls
Sgt. Brock Fasnacht, a military policeman, was mobilized along with about 200 Maryland Guard members to provide assistance at the Landover site.
A patrolman for the police department in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Fasnacht chose to leave home so he could be there for his fellow Soldiers.
“A lot of us are law enforcement officers. We don’t want to let our buddies down at home, who we work with every day. But we also don’t want to let our guys here down either,” he said.
Since Fasnacht, 32, is a squad leader, he felt a larger responsibility to be with his Army teammates who have not yet served during an emergency response.
While in the Army, Fasnacht was mobilized to help law enforcement in the Baltimore riots in April 2015. He has also driven paramedics and police officers in his Humvee so they could respond to calls after roads closed due to snowstorms.
“To me, it’s more important that I make sure those six guys are taken care of than it would be for my own individual patrol area at home,” he said of his squad.
Besides his squad, a blend of Soldiers from logistics, transportation to medical specialists have arrived at the testing site to help their civilian counterparts. When the site opened on Monday, it tested about 70 people -- a number that is expected to steadily increase.
“It’s not just one particular unit that’s coming out and doing one specific specialty,” said Maj. Kurt Rauschenberg, the Maryland Guard’s director of public affairs. “It’s a mix of units that are doing what needs to get done to help Marylanders.”
With over 2,000 Maryland Guard members now called up to help efforts across the state, the major said they are ready for this uncertain time.
“It’s unique, but we’re also unique because the Maryland Guard has a unique set of capabilities that we always provide in times of need,” he said. “So this is a perfect situation where the Maryland Guard is being used in a way that can best benefit and serve the communities.”