HONOLULU — For almost two years, National Guard Soldiers and Airmen from all across the United States supported COVID-19 response efforts, and the Hawaii National Guard was no exception. When the Hawaii National Guard stood up the Joint Task Force Medical on April 14, 2020, Col. Mark Young was tapped to lead the group.
In addition to serving in the Hawaii National Guard, Young is a U.S. Army civilian operations and plans specialist at Installation Management Command-Pacific working in the Operations, Plans and Training — or G-3/5/7 — directorate.
When Young got the call to mobilize, nobody knew how long he would be required to be away from his civilian job at IMCOM-Pacific. But the G-3/5/7 director, Don Bradshaw, knew it was an important mission and fully supported Young’s mobilization.
“It is difficult for us to perform our mission if we don't have the support of our families and the support of our civilian employers,” said Young.
“As a former reservist myself, I understand the obligations of the military member, and also of their employer. We knew this was an important mission,” said Bradshaw.
Because of the uncertainty of COVID-19, the task force had to be built on-the-fly and it was necessary to be flexible with Young’s deployment orders.
“We had to build this plane in the air,” said Young.
“You know, normally when soldiers go on deployments, they've got 270 day orders. It's a blanket order to do a certain mission. This one was unique in that Mark's orders were generally 90 days, 120 days, and they were extended over time,” said Bradshaw.
Throughout Young’s mobilization, the IMCOM-Pacific G-3/5/7 found ways to continue its mission supporting U.S. Army Garrisons that serve nearly 300,000 military-affiliated personnel located the Indo-Pacific region — from Alaska to the Republic of the Marshall Islands and from Hawaii to East Asia.
“We knew we were going to have a gap, and so, we tasked organized. We looked at the various functions that Mark did — requirements that didn't stop because of COVID — and we picked up the slack. As things evolved, it became very evident that he was the right guy for the job, and while unpredictability was an issue, he kept up steady communication with us the whole time, so we were never out of touch,” Bradshaw said.
In some cases, team members filling in for Young had to learn while doing.
“Our challenge was to pick out the things that he did and then reassign them to some other team member. Some of those tasks were things that folks had done before or had a little bit of background in, in other cases, there was a bit of a learning curve, but we overcame,” said Bradshaw.
IMCOM-Pacific’s willingness to support Young’s mobilization helped enable the task force's mission, which assisted citizens of Hawaii through some of the most difficult parts of the COVID-19 global pandemic.
“There's a cost, but you feel like it was worth it considering what his contribution is to the state,” said Bradshaw.
The Hawaii National Guard’s COVID-19 assistance to federal, state and local authorities was the longest state activation in its history. The task force's motto was “Ho’okahi Imua,” which means “moving forward together” in the Hawaiian language.
“Coming together and moving forward … that's exactly what the task force did,” said Young.
During activation, working with the Hawaii Department of Health and other community partners, Task Force Medical took on a myriad of responsibilities and helped thousands of Hawaii residents by performing medical screenings, conducting public health education encounters in low-income housing areas and collecting thousands of nasopharyngeal swab specimens at correctional facilities, long-term care facilities, private residences and businesses.
“They might not remember the vaccinations and testing, or the education, everything that we've done for them, but they will remember how they were treated … the team treated everyone with the highest level of professionalism, dignity and respect ... those are things that I'm really proud of,” said Young.
In addition to in-person medical services, the task force assisted the state pre-packaging $10 million worth of equipment for emergency kits, repairing lifesaving equipment, and developing a COVID-19 training course that taught participants how to break the infection cycle, recognize signs and symptoms and employ practices to mitigate spread in the workplace and schools.
Young said that one of the highlights of leading the task force was seeing the public trust the teams earned. He expressed the importance of his personal faith throughout his mobilization and his gratitude for the opportunity to serve the people of his state.
“COVID was bigger than all of us,” said Young, “all the credit and glory goes to [God].”
Task Force Medical stood down on March 15, 2022 and Young returned to his Army civilian job in IMCOM-Pacific’s G-3/5/7 directorate at Fort Shafter.
“Now he's back in the office, we welcomed him back wholeheartedly, and he has jumped right back into the fray,” said Bradshaw.
“I was gone for two years and they've been very supportive ... I really appreciate it,” said Young.