Over the past six weeks, select Simultaneous Membership Program Cadets of the Nathan Hale Battalion have been called to State Active Orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. All across the state of Connecticut, National Guardsmen Cadets have answered the call to fight an invisible enemy within our state borders.
Western Connecticut, more specifically Fairfield County, has experienced the brunt of COVID-19 cases throughout the state of Connecticut. Alpha Company of the 1-102nd Infantry Regiment was activated in late March to build a field hospital at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury to help offset hospital overflow. Cadets David Crowe (MSII, University of Connecticut), and Andre Salazar (MSI, University of New Haven), were activated with their company to aid in the relief efforts. The Cadets say that although things may look gloomy on the national level due to the virus, Soldiers of the Connecticut Army Reserve National Guard are proud to be helping make a difference in the fight to keep people healthy and safe.“...Guys can see the impact they are having and want to continue to help where needed,” Crowe said.
With regard to potentially being exposed to any contagions and the dangers of COVID-19, Crowe says, “The command team is really looking after the Soldiers.”
Both Cadets believe that they are learning a lot and will bring back valuable knowledge to share with their respective schools. Crowe, who was deployed to Syria in 2018, said “State activation is different because you can directly see the impact you are having on the population here at home. Being deployed overseas, you have a different focus and a different mission; you’re fighting a different enemy. Both being overseas and being activated for the state, you develop a stronger bond with those around you.”
Also located in West Connecticut is Cadet Vanessa Aragon (MSII). She is a Cadet working in the S6 shop of the 1-102nd Infantry Regiment and has helped in the construction of hospitals and delivering of supplies to Southern Connecticut State University.
“UConn’s Army ROTC program has allowed me to develop skills that I am using during this activation, such as knowledge of equipment issuance with the S4 shop and working as part of a team. [Some] times it came down to someone to step up for a job and take leadership, as a training Cadet, I gained the confidence [to step up],” Aragon said. During her experience responding to the COVID-19 outbreak, she says that she has stayed motivated knowing that she is helping in any way she can.
Over in Central Connecticut, Cadet Andy Le (MSII), a former 68W Combat Medic Specialist, has been activated with the 141st Medical Company at John Dempsey Hospital to ensure there is enough supplies ready to be dispersed in the state. Although the environment he worked in has been described as stressful, he said that most of the Soldiers of the 141st work in emergency medicine, so they are up to any task the pandemic has thrown at them.
“You should be prepared to work with any person, not just people within the military. You can work with fire departments or police officers, and other first responders to get any job done.” Le said. He has learned a lot in this experience, including how to take initiative and take on tasks without the need of leadership “over his shoulder” telling him what to do next. He wishes to take this experience back to his university, and get ready to work as an MSIII in the fall.
Cadets Joseph Olis (MSIII) and Brian Goggin (MSII) have been activated with Charlie Company of the 1-102nd Infantry since April 8 to help build emergency field hospitals at the Connecticut Convention Center and Central Connecticut State University. Olis believes that most valuable learning experience during his activation has been, “Learning how a Company Commander receives and disseminates orders down to his company” along with, “seeing how the Army works with other organizations such as the Air Guard, and the Department of Public Health.”
The piece of advice Olis would like to give to Cadets who will be activated in the future is, “Keep an open mind, and be ready to digest a lot of information in a short amount of time.”
Goggin has gained a tremendous amount of respect for his chain of command during this activation, and has learned from their steady leadership, and calm demeanors. This activation has also shown Goggin that the Army trains Soldiers to be problem solvers. Before being activated, he had no training in how to set up a field hospital; but the gravity of the pandemic, working under the guidance of good leadership and his own perseverance and ability to solve problems helped Goggin get the job done.
Goggin’s philosophy is that a soldier must be OK with failing, but not OK with allowing failure. The National Guard is experiencing new challenges that it’s never seen before, and Goggin is determined to come out on the other side as a better Soldier.
The Cadets have all said that the activation has been an invaluable experience that has helped them better understand leadership and the larger Army that they will serve in as officers. They have all commented on the level and degree of planning the officers have put into each and every day as well as the morale and tone that the leadership sets. They are motivated and now have a new sense of service and sacrifice.
“I see this activation changing how I lead both in and outside of ROTC, in my ability to complete tasks effectively and efficiently. As COVID-19 rapidly spreads, our mission has taught us to remain vigilant and be prepared to care for others at a moment’s notice,” Aragon said.
Our Cadets will bring back the lessons they have learned from their activations, and apply them within the program, “I will be more considerate of the mission as a whole, and more understanding of the decisions the command team is making,” Crowe said.
“I can see that it takes a lot of teamwork and patience to lead. I will definitely utilize my peers a lot more in the future to be an effective leader,” Olis said.
The experience of being activated has had a significant impact on our Cadets, and will no doubt aid them in becoming better Soldiers and officers because of it.
Goggin best summarizes this experience for her fellow Cadets by saying, “This is an experience worth more than anything. This is the first time where the weight of the uniform starts to feel like something. People are scared. You carry a flag on your shoulder because even when it seems like the world has stopped spinning, people look to you to carry on and keep up the hope. You are a part of something bigger than yourself. You need to be the reason people look at the uniform the way they do.”