Members of the 52nd CST and members of the Ohio Department of Health pose for a portrait.

Photo by Senior Airman Christi Richter, 121st Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Members of the 52nd CST and members of the Ohio Department of Health pose for a portrait on April 13, 2020 in Columbus, Ohio. The 52nd CST is supporting the Ohio Department of Health by helping to process COVID-19 test samples from around the state.

Ohio National Guard COVID-19 lab operators: On the front lines from behind the scenes

Story by Senior Airman Christi Richter, 121st Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio (04/17/20)

Since late March, members of the Ohio National Guard have been deployed all across the state, helping provide critical support during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of these essential efforts have been new and diverse mission sets, from supporting communities through food bank distribution operations or surveying suitable sites for possible patient overflow, to receiving medical personal protective equipment or providing health care support to state and federal prisons.

A small group of Soldiers and Airmen with the Ohio National Guard’s 52nd Civil Support Team are supporting the state’s response by dealing directly with the virus as part of their everyday job. Three members of the unit who specialize in medical laboratory analysis are helping process COVID-19 tests at the Ohio Department of Health Public Health Laboratory (ODHL) in Reynoldsburg.

“While this is a terrible situation, it’s awesome to see why we train for all of this,” said Sgt. 1st Class Ross Miller, a medic and lab operator with the 52nd CST who has been a member of the Ohio National Guard for nearly 17 years.

The CST consists of approximately 40 specially trained Airmen and Soldiers who can rapidly deploy in support of civil authorities to help identify unknown agents or substances, assess the impact of those substances and advise on response measures —making them a perfect partner to assist the laboratory.

The Ohio Department of Health requested a small detail from the CST to help expand their capacity to process COVID-19 test samples received from all over the state. The lab is currently processing more than 250 samples a day, expediting turnaround times to deliver results back to medical facilities as quickly as possible.

“I think if you have any role in this (the state’s response) at all, you’re making a difference,” Miller said. “We’re a small piece of that big puzzle.”

The CST frequently trains side-by-side with local first responders, community partners and state agencies, ensuring its members are ready to respond rapidly when the call for assistance comes in a real-world situation like the current pandemic. It allows everyone involved to be synchronized, familiar with one another’s roles and capabilities. Miller and his other team members supporting the ODHL said working together previously is making a difference during the current pandemic.

Quanta Brown, the ODHL bureau chief, said the synergy and cohesion at the lab has been her proudest observation.

“The fact that we requested a mission and got approval in a matter of days, and the staff was able to come out and start helping within a week, that was amazing,” Brown said. “There’s a sense of community and a sense of teamwork that everybody has, and it’s been really great to see.”

While the Ohio National Guard continues to provide various support to the state during a time that has brought much uncertainty, the 52nd Civil Support Team members and ODHL staff will continue to work together tirelessly to deliver answers of certainty to Ohioans.

“There are front-line workers you may not realize are front-line workers to this response,” Brown said. “Everybody knows about the hospital workers and the people in the grocery stores, but the people who are in the laboratories getting the testing done are also heroes.”