NY Guard delivers 4.5 million meals, half-million test kits
By Eric Durr | New York National Guard May 4, 2020
LATHAM, N.Y. -- Sixty-two days after the first New Yorker was diagnosed with COVID-19, and 55 days after being called to duty to help contain the pandemic, the New York National Guard has 3,629 members on duty.
This includes 2,994 New York Army National Guard Soldiers and 470 New York Air National Guard Airmen organized into six geographic joint task forces and two mission-related task forces.
The state's defense forces, the New York Guard and New York Naval Militia have also contributed volunteers to the mission.
Eighty-one members of the New York Guard, the state's volunteer defense force that augments the New York National Guard, are assisting in administrative and logistics roles.
The New York Naval Militia, including members of the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard reserves who volunteer to perform state duty, has 84 people also working in support positions.
During the last week of April, New York expanded its drive-through testing locations from 10 – all but one of which was in the downstate region – to 15 with the addition of sites in the Mohawk Valley, the Southern Tier counties and central and western New York.
Thirty Soldiers and Airmen at each site provide administrative and logistics support. There are 675 National Guard members supporting all 15 sites, including combat medics and medical technicians.
As of April 30, there have been 185,412 tests administered at New York National Guard-supported test sites across the state. As of May 1, 927,438 New Yorkers have been tested for COVID-19, according to the governor's office, and 308,314 have tested positive.
As of May 1, 18,610 New York residents, mostly in New York City, have died from the disease.
New York National Guard Soldiers have also been expanding food distribution missions to upstate New York.
Soldiers are now supporting the meals for seniors program conducted by the Chenango County Area Agency on Aging northeast of Binghamton and south of Syracuse.
The Soldiers are using public transit buses to deliver meals across the sprawling region. "They just showed up and started working," said Jackie Lisk, the nutritional services coordinator for the Chenango County Area Agency on Aging. "I was impressed on how organized they were."
"All of the volunteers are extremely thankful and people are really happy to have us here," said Spc. Ross Gillman, a member of Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry.
One-time food drop missions also took place in Amsterdam, Montgomery County, and Delhi, Delaware County, with another mission planned for Fonda in the Mohawk Valley.
Food delivery missions continue in New York City and the Albany and Schenectady areas.
In the Bronx, Yonkers, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Manhattan in New York City, Soldiers and Airmen have distributed 4,446,811 meals.
National Guard Soldiers and Airmen conducting the first food distribution mission, in Westchester County, have provided 97,628 meal packages since the start of the mission.
In Albany County, troops have delivered 3,011 meals to quarantined residents as of May 1, and 3,406 meals in Schenectady.
New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen working at the regional food bank in Latham have prepared 255 pallets of food for shipment across northeastern New York.
A major New York National Guard mission entered a new phase May 1 as the alternate care site for COVID-19 patients at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan discharged its final patient. The New York National Guard erected the facility at the end of March, along with the Army Corps of Engineers and civilian contractors.
The New York National Guard staffed an incident command center at Javits, providing administrative and logistics support to almost 2,700 civilian and military medical personnel. One of the New York National Guard's two civil support teams helped medical staff at the facility with COVID-19 rapid testing.
One of the Guard Soldiers working at Javits, Warrant Officer Christopher Gallant, contracted the disease, with relatively benign symptoms, recovered and volunteered to go on duty.
He was also able to serve as a guinea pig for the 24th Civil Support Team (CST), which wanted to ensure its antibody test system was functioning correctly. The team tested his blood and proved the system when his sample showed positive for the antibodies that exposure to the COVID-19 virus produces.
The New York National Guard will continue to provide support at Javits while it transitions to a cold status. The medical treatment station will be cleaned once viral particles settle.
The Javits location, and alternate care facilities erected at the South Beach Psychiatric Center on Staten Island; State University of New York, Old Westbury and State University of New York, Stoney Brook on Long Island; and the Westchester Convention Center, will be placed on hold status in case there is a second wave of COVID-19, according to New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
New York National Guard members are providing access control support at those locations.
Fourteen pararescue Airmen from the 106th Rescue Wing are due to complete a mission at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens this week. The Airmen, who are trained in advanced emergency medical techniques, have been working with the staff to care for patients on ventilators.
Some 250 members of the Guard continue to assist the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of New York City with the dignified removal of human remains. Another 70 Soldiers assigned to the active Army's 54th Quartermaster Company are also helping the medical examiner's office. Soldiers and Airmen from numerous units are conducting this mission under the control of the 369th Sustainment Brigade.
The support mission also includes assistance to the Westchester and Orange County Medical Examiners.
On April 28, a New York Guard unit played a role in a flyover of New York City and Long Island by the Navy and Air Force flight demonstration teams, the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds.
The Eastern Air Defense Sector, a component of the North American Air Defense Command based in Rome and staffed by the New York Air National Guard, provided tactical control and airspace deconfliction for the flight and coordinated fueling tankers for the mission.
"As New Yorkers, it was a privilege to play a small part in the nation's salute to medical care workers and essential personnel in the metro area who have risked their own health to help others during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Col. Paul Bishop, commander of the 224th Air Defense Group.
New York Soldiers and Airmen continue conducting logistics missions, including warehousing and commodity distribution of medical supplies at six sites in the Hudson Valley, the Albany area and Mohawk Valley.
On a typical day, troops delivered 21 pallets of medical supplies and personnel protective equipment to Rochester, Rome and Buffalo. New York National Guard personnel have also delivered 50,517 gallons of sanitizer.
Soldiers continue to answer phones at two New York City call centers, including one for the New York City Division of Veterans Services. Guard Soldiers also are providing administrative support at two New York City 911 call centers.
Soldiers and Airmen have assembled 503,560 COVID-19 test kits for the New York State Department of Health in Albany for distribution across New York.
The governor is emphasizing the need for increased testing to help determine which parts of the state can loosen restrictions imposed to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
The Guard also stood up a separate task force to cope with high waters on Lake Ontario. Wednesday, Soldiers began installing a protective water barrier near the Coast Guard facility in Rochester.
The response to COVID-19 has kept the New York National Guard chaplains busy as well, Army National Guard Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Scott Ehler told his South African National Defence Forces colleague Chaplain (Col.) Rev. Elsabe Francis during an April 26 phone conference.
"The ministry teams are on the ground with our service members providing daily support. Even though we must socially distance ourselves, we are ensuring our service members don't isolate," Ehler said. "We are desperately trying to remain spiritually connected and located to the frontlines of duty."
The New York National Guard and the South African military have a relationship under the National Guard State Partnership Program, and the chaplains were exchanging best practice information.
The chaplains have helped Soldiers and Airmen deal with stressful missions, like the support to the medical examiner, said Col. Rob Mitchell, the New York National Guard director of joint operations.
"We have learned very quickly that a pandemic like this engenders a high degree of uncertainty and stress. The religious support teams have been operationalized in a way we have not previously envisioned," Mitchell said.
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