LANSING, Mich. – Days after the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer tapped the Michigan National Guard to help manage the distribution of $275 million in personal protective equipment (PPE) and supplies.Working closely with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) and the Michigan State Police to conduct an accountability audit and optimize warehouse and distribution operations, the Soldiers of the Michigan National Guard’s Task Force Tiger handed over operational control of a 130,000-square-foot warehouse full of PPE to the state of Michigan July 17th.With more than 71 million COVID-19 related items organized on the shelves and new distribution and supply chain processes in place, state employees can now efficiently ship vital PPE from the warehouse in Lansing to municipalities and first responders throughout Michigan within hours instead of days or weeks.“We began the mission with 35 engineers from across the state and four MDOC personnel,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Randall L. Hartlerode, an engineer from the 507th Engineer Battalion in Kalamazoo and the commanding officer of the Soldiers who organized and distributed the PPE.One of the first missions was setting up equipment in emergency field hospitals in Detroit and Novi. “Since March we’ve participated in a civil disturbance in Grand Rapids, the flood in Midland, Michigan, COVID-19 testing in the prisons, and the distribution of PPE,” said Hartlerode.As the number of infections rose, there was a nationwide shortage of PPE. COVID-19 supplies were on backorder for months, but soon, a flood of deliveries began showing up at various locations. “Things were so spread out, it was difficult to know exactly what you had,” said Hartlerode. So he sent eight-person forward coordination cells to locate items and ship them to the Lansing warehouse. The pallets were broken down, each item was counted, repacked, and stored for easy access.“I was a shipping and receiving manager at a small abrasives recycling plant during my first year of college, but I’ve never seen anything on this scale before,” said Cpl. Zakariah K. Blackmon. “Back then, we would take in eight to 12 pallets per day. Whereas here, we can take in as many as 400 pallets per day.”“Serving in the warehouse means a lot to me,” said Blackmon, from Iron Mountain. “It’s not something everyone gets a chance to do. I have the opportunity to help people working around the state in the fight against COVID -19, and I think we’re really making a difference.”Hartlerode said having 15 to 20 trucks waiting to unload at the warehouse is normal.“Some of it comes in organized and some of it arrives a mess; you just have to open the door and see what’s there,” he said. Some of the Soldiers were assigned to a quick reaction force (QRF). “If a truck showed up in the middle of the night, the QRF had to get out of bed and come unload it,” he said.The warehouse is about the size of three football fields and busting at the seams. “In the back of the warehouse, we have long-term storage of durable goods like beds, handwashing stations, copiers and office equipment that’s needed to set up field hospitals. On the other side we have PPE like masks, gloves, gowns and other items that are continuously being shipped here and redistributed in smaller amounts to the municipalities and first responders,” said Hartlerode.Michigan contracted with a local company to build custom racking to help organize the items. “We’ll be able to get even more supplies in here once the racking is built,” he said.“This is a brand new capability for the state of Michigan,” said C. Todd Bechler, MDOC. “Knowing what we have available, and being able to same-day ship items, has taken us to a whole new level of readiness. Disasters like COVID-19 put an incredible strain on the supply chain. If a second wave of COVID-19 ramps up, or any other disaster occurs, Michigan will be ready!”For more National Guard newsNational Guard FacebookNational Guard TwitterHow the National Guard is helpingPhotos of the National Guard responseLatest from the CDC