FREDERICK, Md. – Army Staff Sgt. Bryant East was organizing food on a table set up in a parking lot when he felt something was missing.“I see rice, but no flour,” said East, a squad leader with the Maryland Army National Guard’s Company A, 1st Battalion, 175th Infantry Regiment.“No flour right now,” said a young woman who was helping East organize items on the table.“No flour? Cancel the mission,” East joked.It was a moment of levity for the woman and the approximately 30 Maryland Army Guard members who were on hand to help a food bank distribute food and toiletries to residents as part of COVID-19 response efforts.The mission was a relatively new one for the unit’s Soldiers, who have primarily been on duty at COVID-19 testing facilities in Baltimore for the past month.Food distribution is a little more complex, East said.“This is probably the one mission out of all the ones we have done so far that has required the most out of us,” he said, adding that closures because of the COVID-19 outbreak have caused many in the local area to struggle to get food and other needed items.“When we first started [working at the food bank], we just weren’t that busy; not that many people needed us,” said East. “We didn’t have that much to package and we didn’t have that much to hand out.”Demand has increased.“Yesterday, we were at 700 meals that were needed. Now, it’s a thousand,” said East. “It’s growing exponentially every single day with the amount of people in the community [who] need this kind of support.”That means more Soldiers have been augmenting food bank volunteers and staff members with distributing those items.It’s a mission that makes Spc. Hugo Gomez, an infantryman with Company A, feel like he’s come full circle.“Growing up, we were less fortunate,” he said, adding his family often visited the food bank.Taking part in this mission, said Gomez, allows him to give back.“It’s literally giving back to the community and it feels very fulfilling and humbling.”Though he may not be participating in a ruck march or practicing his marksmanship skills on a firing range, Gomez said his military training still comes in handy for a community-based mission.“We have that training that is instilled in us: to be disciplined and move with a purpose and to have everything run basically like a well-oiled machine,” Gomez said. “Regardless if we’re on an M4 [carbine] or operating out of a soup kitchen, we know the mission and we get it done.”East had similar thoughts.“It’s still the same military process for going about mission planning,” he said. “It’s analysis and execution. All of that doesn’t change.”But East said one challenge has been brought about by the pandemic.“What is unique here - for lack of a better word - is the enemy being the virus,” he said, adding that’s very different from deploying overseas or assisting in response to a hurricane, snowstorm or other large-scale event.“If one person gets sick, potentially the entire company goes down, right?” he said.To mitigate that, members of the unit conduct routine checks on each other and ensure everybody is wearing the proper personal protective equipment.“We’re using all the PPE and all the medical screening we can to try to make ourselves as safe as possible,” East said.Even with such risks, East said, Soldier morale remains high.“You don’t see them getting down or frustrated,” he said, even with last-minute changes. “They have been phenomenal.”And East is thankful for that and proud of the job they’ve done.“As leaders, we are nothing without these guys, and they have crushed it,” he said.Others have said similar things about the Soldiers.“They have come in and executed every single task and gotten fantastic feedback from the community,” said East. “The ones they are helping and the civilian entities they are working with have all been very thankful and very impressed in what they have been able to do.”For Gomez, who has plans to become a commissioned officer, it’s all part of the job.“It’s more than just myself,” he said. “It’s my team. It’s my community. It’s my state. It’s my country. I am here actually doing something to help out as best as possible.”Though East said he’s glad for the dedication his Soldiers have, he’s also eager for response efforts to wind down.“I look forward to spending more time with my son and hopefully get the chance to enjoy some sunny, summer weather,” he said.For more National Guard news: Guard Facebook: Guard Twitter: the National Guard is helping: of the National Guard response: from the CDC: response: House-CDC response: