COLUMBUS, Ohio – The National Guard’s motto, “Always Ready, Always There,” has never been truer than in the past year.
March 23 marked the one-year anniversary of the Ohio National Guard’s first mission as part of the state’s response to COVID-19, when members answered the call from Gov. Mike DeWine and reported for duty at food banks across the Buckeye State.
“The unwavering commitment of the men and women of the Ohio National Guard has been critical in our statewide response to COVID-19,” DeWine said. “They have met each unique mission with determination and resolve, truly making a difference in communities across the state. Every Guard member has my sincerest thanks for their service to their fellow Ohioans and our state.”
Since March 2020, a total of 5,600 Soldiers, Airmen, and members of the Ohio Military Reserve and the Ohio Naval Militia — nearly a third of the entire Ohio National Guard force — have helped their communities in nearly 70 missions that have included providing vaccinations, distributing food and collecting personal protective equipment (PPE) for front-line workers.
“We have never experienced such a prolonged or expansive scope of missions as what we’ve seen in the past 12 months,” said Maj. Gen. John C. Harris Jr., Ohio adjutant general. “I am proud of how our men and women have stepped up every time to help their fellow Ohioans, many times while juggling their family life and other responsibilities such as school.”
Ohio Air National Guard Col. Gregg J. Hesterman, commander of the joint task force overseeing the COVID-19 missions, said Ohio Guard members have been working diligently since last March.
“We have been serving in food banks, prisons and nursing facilities; accomplished multiple COVID-19 testing locations; transported thousands of test kits; and most recently began administering vaccines to our fellow Ohioans,” Hesterman said. “We will be here until we are no longer needed in fighting this pandemic. It is our honor to serve our neighbors, but we look forward to the coming date when we can say ‘mission complete.’”
About 900 Guard members are now deployed for missions that are expected to be federally funded until the end of September.
Among those deployed is Ohio Air National Guard Tech Sgt. Abigail Adams. A licensed registered nurse, Adams began assisting as part of the COVID-19 testing mission in state prisons last April. Since then, she has helped with other medical missions, including being part of a medical team that provided short-term assistance at a nursing home experiencing staffing shortages due to the pandemic.
“I have had the amazing opportunity through this time of activation to sit down with very scared patients and lend an ear,” Adams said. “I have spent countless hours in discussion with them about their fears of COVID-19 and the experience they were going through, and giving my full support and encouragement. I cannot begin to tell you how many of those patients and community members have, in turn, changed my life and encouraged me.”
National Guard members from all 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia have helped during the pandemic. At the peak this past summer, more than 47,000 were deployed.
“Every day, for over a year now, tens of thousands of National Guard members, many of whom left their families and civilian jobs, have served at food banks, testing locations, warehouses, and vaccination sites,” said Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau. “As I speak, over 29,500 Army and Air National Guard members, or about 7% of our force, are supporting COVID-19 operations around the country.”