NYNG has deployed over 6,000 to battle COVID-19 in past year

By Eric Durr | New York National GuardMarch 9, 2021

NYNG has deployed over 6,000 to battle COVID-19 in past year
The New York National Guard mobilized over 6,000 troops to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic since the first 270 Soldiers and Airmen responded to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's mobilization order of March 10, 2020. This chart reflects the massive amount of work members of the New York Army and Air National Guard, New York Naval Militia and New York Guard have accomplishe in the past 365 days. (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL

NEW YORK - The mission started with 270 Guard members deployed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on March 10, 2020, to deliver school lunches and clean public buildings in a one-square-mile containment zone in New Rochelle.

In the year since then, the New York National Guard's COVID-19 response has involved 6,116 members of the New York Army and Air National Guard, the New York Naval Militia and the New York Guard state defense force.

Today, New York service members are administering vaccinations, running warehouses, administering coronavirus testing sites, assembling test kits and screening passengers arriving at airports.

At the peak of the deployment in April, there was 3,646 military personnel on duty across New York. As of March 9, 2021, that number stood at 3,042 as vaccination tasks bring more personnel back on duty.

"When I think back on what the New York Military Forces did to support the citizens of New York, the words I come up with are: superhuman, inspiring and extraordinary," said Maj. Gen. Ray Shields, the adjutant general of New York. "The people of the State of New York will long remember our entire National Guard team when the history of New York's COVID response is written."

The numbers and kinds of missions conducted underscore the scope of the response.

As of March 5, New York National Guard personnel assisted in collecting 1,492,563 samples at 15 drive-thru coronavirus testing sites, an ongoing mission.

Guard Soldiers and Airmen also collected 14,269 state-supported antibody tests in the spring of 2020, while the 2nd and 24th Civil Support Teams conducted 8,912 COVID-19 tests with their mobile lab in support of mission-essential military and civilian personnel.

At the test sites, Soldiers and Airmen direct traffic, collect forms and at some locations collect samples.

The New York National Guard also collected tests from 2,179 nursing home residents in 2020.

Soldiers and Airmen working with the Department of Health assembled 8,248,417 COVID-19 test kits for distribution across New York. This mission is also ongoing.

Guardsmen are helping control access at three mass vaccination sites and four alternative care field hospitals, which were constructed and mothballed in case they were needed later.

Early in the pandemic, when there was great concern that the virus could spread from surfaces, New York National Guardsmen cleaned 22 facilities in the New Rochelle area and delivered 112,707 gallons of hand sanitizer around the state.

Guard troops also provided mask fitting stations at some of the first COVID-19 testing sites set up in Westchester County. There was 1,889 personnel fit-tested for N95 masks.

At seven warehouse locations across New York, Soldiers and Airmen inventoried supplies and distributed them where needed. As of March 5, 57,336 pallets of goods have been warehoused and 25,138 have been distributed in the ongoing logistics operation.

One of the most unusual logistics missions was the New York National Guard's role in converting the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan into an alternative care field hospital. Active-duty military medical personnel staffed the facility, but the New York National Guard set it up and administered the facility.

The men and women of the 133rd Composite Supply Company reconfigured the building, and the images of them working went around the world.

The governor praised the Soldiers on March 27, when the Javits Center facility was waiting for its first patients.

"Ten years from now, you'll be talking about today to your children or your grandchildren, and you will shed a tear because you will remember the lives lost. You'll remember the faces and you'll remember the names and you'll remember how hard we worked and that we still lost loved ones," Cuomo said.

"And you'll shed a tear and you should because it will be sad. But, you will also be proud. You'll be proud of what you did. You'll be proud that you showed up. You showed up when other people played it safe. You had the courage to show up. You had the skill and the professionalism to make a difference and save lives. That's what you will have done," Cuomo said.

There were 1,095 COVID-19 patients moved from overcrowded hospitals in New York City and treated at Javits before it closed at the end of April.

When a veteran died there, New York Soldiers organized a hurried flag ceremony to send him off with honors.

In January 2021, the Javits Center was reopened, this time as a mass vaccination center where 8,000 doses a day were administered.

"There are 350 Soldiers and Airmen on the ground here that are doing amazing work," said Lt. Col. Todd Balog, who was serving as the deputy incident commander at Javits. "Walking around the floor and seeing how they interact with the public, I couldn't be more proud."

One New Yorker who was vaccinated at the Javits Center posted his thanks on the New York Army National Guard's Facebook page.

"I was there on March 3 and the operation was very well run. The Guard members were well engaged, very helpful, and some even fun and funny as they kept the lines moving," Tom Rollin wrote.

Since the vaccination mission began in January, Guardsmen have supported 797,526 New Yorkers getting shots at 17 locations ranging from the Javits Center in Manhattan to Plattsburgh just south of the Canadian border. The state plans an additional 10 sites in mid-March.

In 13,529 of those instances, Guard Soldiers and Airmen have been giving the shots.

"I have done several thousands of vaccinations throughout my career in the military, so it was no different," said Staff Sgt. Jessenia Penia, a medical readiness NCO in the 369th Special Troops Battalion.

Even before the vaccinations started, New York National Guard Soldiers were building point of distribution trailers that allowed vaccination sites to be set up anywhere.

New York National Guardsmen also provided medical care directly to 1,409 patients at the height of the medical crisis in 2020. Much of that was conducted by pararescue Airmen of the 106th Rescue Wing, who are trained as emergency medical technicians.

At Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens, a 545-bed hospital in what The New York Times dubbed the epicenter of the pandemic, the team from the 106th arrived to help manage respirator use on April 8.

"They were in need of a lot of support," recalled Master Sgt. Matthew Zimmer. "There were lines around the emergency room, with new patients testing positive. The hospital was already at its maximum when we showed up."

The Airmen relieved hospital staffers of managing ventilators and conducted the "proning" of COVID-19 patients, turning them onto their stomachs to help them breathe.

Another unusual mission was to assist at New York State call centers set up to handle questions about the pandemic.

Soldiers worked in the Hudson Valley Transportation Management Center in Hawthorne in March 2020, then shifted to call centers in Rotterdam and Schenectady.

That mission began March 11 and ended April 20 after 185,880 calls were answered.

Guard Soldiers continued making "vet check" calls to veterans for New York City until the end of summer. Soldiers also made calls as part of a New York City initiative to provide air conditioners to people who could not afford them and provided administrative assistance at two 911 call centers in the city.

New York National Guard members handled or supported 278,162 phone calls during 2020.

In the spring of 2020, New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen also conducted one of the grimmest tasks of the mission – assisting the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of New York City in dealing with the dramatic increase in deaths.

Between March and mid-April 2020, 3,000 more New Yorkers died than normal. Refrigerator trailers became temporary morgues, and the New York National Guard used modified panel trucks to retrieve the dead.

Around 400 Soldiers and Airmen helped retrieve the remains of 2,882 residents from their homes. Fifteen teams worked the day shift and another 15 worked at night.

Other Soldiers supported the transfer of the dead from hospitals, operated a long-term storage facility of refrigerated trailers on Pier 39 in Brooklyn, and other mortuary tasks.

"Soldiers understand the mission, how important it is and that their help is greatly needed by their fellow citizens and appreciated by authorities," Command Sgt. Maj. David Piwowarski, the New York Army National Guard's senior enlisted adviser, said following a visit to the teams on April 12.

Soldiers provided similar assistance to the Westchester and Orange County medical examiners.

With families out of work, and schools, which provided lunch programs, closed, getting food to New Yorkers became a major mission from March – when the Soldiers and Airmen began distributing meals in New Rochelle – to August 8, by which time 52,309,560 meals had been passed out in New York City.

There were 150 Soldiers on the mission at 11 locations across New York City, passing up to 400,000 meals daily.

Meals were also distributed to upstate locations in Albany County, Westchester County, the Mohawk Valley and even Chenango County in western New York, where Soldiers on local transit buses distributed 13,753 meals to senior citizens.

By the time the meal missions ended, the New York National Guard had distributed 54,899,025 meals and helped prepare 444,987 meals at food pantries.

In October, a new mission was added, collecting health forms from air travelers entering New York. As of March 5, Guard Soldiers and Airmen at 12 New York airports had collected 2,538,718 health forms from travelers.

The New York National Guard also took part in the Department of Defense test program for administering the COVID-19 vaccine to service personnel. Within 96 hours of the first Pfizer vaccines arriving at New York National Guard Medical Command on Dec. 16, all 975 doses had been distributed.

New York National Guard medical officials then launched a sustained effort to vaccinate the force, with 4,236 members and eligible civilian employees getting at least one shot by March 8.

New York also deployed over 1,300 Soldiers and Airmen to the nation's capital following the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, then deployed 530 Soldiers for long-term security.

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