NEWS | Jan. 6, 2021

Kentucky Army & Air Guard COVID-19 2020 Response

By Sgt. Jesse Elbouab, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Commentary

COVID-19 and the onset of a global pandemic have forced us to retreat in our daily lives. For many, this has been a year of loss, struggle, uncertainty, and agitation. However, through a time of mandatory social distancing, the call to respond to the community has never been higher for the men and women that serve the Commonwealth.

Historical years change the course of the future. They force us to re-evaluate, adapt, and evolve. There are historical years of hardship, and there are historical years of advancement, but this year, 2020, has been unlike so many others.

COVID-19 and the onset of a global pandemic have forced us to retreat in our daily lives. For many, this has been a year of loss, struggle, uncertainty, and agitation. However, through a time of mandatory social distancing, the call to respond to the community has never been higher for the men and women that serve the Commonwealth.

"Never before has the Kentucky National Guard been needed more than right here, right now, at home," said Brig. Gen. Hal Lamberton, Kentucky's 53rd Adjutant General. "While not all of us are medical experts, I believe we are looked to as a source of balance, safety, and security in our communities. That's why we are sought out. When we face issues such as this pandemic, the need for reassurance and stability is even greater. I am proud of the work we have done and will continue to do as we progress toward safer times. For now, we must remain vigilant and focus on being good leaders and stewards of good choices within our communities, our units, and homes."

Kentucky had its first official COVID positive case on March 6 at UK's hospital and the Governor, Andy Beshear, declared a state of emergency within the Commonwealth. On March 13, he activated members of the Kentucky Army and Air National Guard in "State Active Duty" to begin providing critical support. After a few weeks the federal government decided the response needed to be bigger than each state’s input, and Kentucky’s service members transitioned to federal military orders along with the rest of the nation’s National Guard.

"Our Guard troops have been a phenomenal resource," said Steve Hensley, director of Kenton County's Homeland Security and Emergency Management. "Whether it's with traffic control, moving equipment, or assisting with the clean up afterward, whatever we need or ask of them, they address the issue immediately with a smile on their faces."

Since March, we've logged 55,277 man-days (a combination of both State Active Duty and Federal Orders support duty status), for a total of 442,216-man-hours.

Soldiers and Airmen are responding in various capacities around the state. Food banks, assisting with testing sites, storing, shipping, receiving, personal protective equipment for essential workers, and long care term facilities are the primary focus.

"One of the nice things about the Guard is that we are Kentuckians helping fellow Kentuckians," Said Army Lt. Col. Jessica Garrett, logistics planner for the Kentucky National Guard. "That's a unique aspect, and I know everyone is happy to be here and do what we've trained to do."

The peaks and valleys of Covid-19 coincide with determining the volume of 'boots on the ground' response. Our peak day of support occurred early in April when we had 890 military personnel on orders. Currently, there are approximately 150 service members actively on orders responding to the ongoing needs of the Commonwealth.

Early in the mission, food banks across the state played a significant role in getting food to Kentuckians struggling for various reasons. Simple day-to-day tasks like getting groceries became a potentially life-threatening situation for our higher-risk neighbors.

"8,600 boxes are sent each month to senior citizens in 42 counties, and we simply could not continue this mission without the help of the Kentucky National Guard," said Jamie Sizemore, Executive Director of Elizabethtown Operations.

While some missions have remained ongoing, others have served their purpose and are considered complete at this time. During early spikes of the virus, service members assisted with hospital security for 11 different hospitals in the state, predominantly in Louisville.

Another primary task that service members undertook early on is the full logistical, administrative and medical support to the Alternate Care Facility or Field Hospital at the Kentucky Fair & Exposition Center in Louisville. Hundreds of service members were on 24-hour standby for weeks. Thankfully, the ACF was never needed, and the site was "moth-balled," ready to be stood back up as soon as the state requires it.

"There are two things that come with our job, to protect and to serve. We are doing the service part of this operation," said 1st Lt. Corey Oney; who serves as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot in the Kentucky Army National Guard and oversaw one of the Drive Thru Testing Site teams that provided support across the state.

Perhaps one of the most important ways we are still "serving" is by assisting with Long Term Health Care Facility support across the state. Service members are providing logistical and administrative support in a non-medical capacity. Facilities are understaffed, overworked and our neighbors are suffering as a result. Service members have stepped in to assist where needed.

"You can't imagine the feeling of relief to have the National Guard step in and essentially say, 'Let me lighten the load for you for a bit. You look weary, and your shoulders must be tired from caring such a heavy burden, " said Elise Hinchman, the vice president of Marketing and Development at Sayre.

Soldiers and Airmen were called upon to support more than just the Covid-19 response this year though. The Commonwealth of Kentucky utilized service members to assist with both the Primary and General election days, among numerous other missions to include civil disturbance and critical search and rescue.

"I appreciate all of the hard work from the Guardsmen. The Soldiers are aiding us in meeting our numbers each day, said Lt. Jason Joseph, Kentucky State Police. "The collaboration has been phenomenal, and for that, I am grateful."

We are an organization that stands ready, regardless of the task, the duty, or the mission. The men and women that serve the Kentucky Army and Air National Guard take their role as "Citizen-Soldiers" to heart. When called upon, we stand ready.

As the year comes to a close, it is clear that Covid-19 will not disappear when the clock strikes midnight on December 31, 2020. The President has authorized continued federal support by the National Guard through March 2021. We will continue to serve Kentuckians, as Kentuckians.

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