Collage of Ohio National Guard members in action during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ohio National Guard’s role in state’s COVID-19 response

Story by Stephanie Beougher, Ohio National Guard Public Affairs

COLUMBUS, Ohio (06/04/20)

In the closing comments of a recent edition of the venerable television news magazine “60 Minutes,” the anchor mentioned how the year 2020 reflects the idea of perfect 20/20 vision. He pointed out that the coronavirus pandemic has provided us with anything but clarity.

The 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) spread across the globe in a matter of months and caused disruptions to nearly every aspect of our normal routines.

The Ohio National Guard’s response to fight the effects of the virus began when Gov. Mike DeWine signed a state active duty proclamation on March 18 to activate approximately 300 personnel from the Guard and Ohio Military Reserve to assist with humanitarian efforts.

“The action I’ve taken to activate the Ohio National Guard will provide support to our food pantries that are low on staff and need help getting food to some of our most vulnerable citizens,” DeWine said in a news release issued the next day.

The Soldiers were dispatched to 12 food bank warehouse locations throughout the state in support of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and the Ohio Association of Foodbanks. Two more locations were added later, the force supporting the mission doubled, and, as of May 31, more than 19 million pounds of food had been distributed.

“We have a long history of supporting the state and nation during times of emergency,” said Maj. Gen. John C. Harris Jr., Ohio adjutant general, at the time of the first deployments. “Our Guard members are coming from counties across the state to serve their own communities, ensuring their neighbors continue to receive food and pantry items.”

More than a dozen missions followed the food bank support, and more than 900 Ohio National Guard and Ohio Military Reserve members were called into action. The missions included collaborating with regional partners to identify and develop alternate care sites to expand medical capacity, assisting in warehousing and collecting personal protective equipment, and providing medical and operational support at state prisons.

A joint task force has been overseeing all the varied missions. Led by Col. Matthew Woodruff, commander of the 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT), the task force has provided management and oversight to all Ohio National Guard support requested through the governor’s office.

“Although the 37th IBCT provides the majority of the overall command structure, we are a joint task force with Army Guard, Air Guard and members of the Ohio Military Reserve,” Woodruff said. “We are a supporting force to allow state agencies and organizations to continue operations during a time when they have experienced significant impacts to staffing and increased demands for resources.”

Woodruff said he is proud of each member of the task force for the long hours they have worked and the time they have spent away from family.

“They put themselves on the front lines of this pandemic. In many cases, our forces have increased productivity within the supported organizations exponentially,” he said. “I could not have asked for a better group of professionals to answer the call to serve.”

More than two months after the first call for assistance, the Ohio National Guard continued to work with state partners to fill critical needs. In late May, medical professionals from the Ohio National Guard and Ohio Military Reserve began to support onsite sample collection at congregate long-term care facilities such as nursing homes across the state.

“There have been short-notice missions that our men and women have responded to with a lot of skill and to the great praise from those of whom we are supporting,” Harris said.

Among those expressing praise was Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, who called the “hard work and sacrifice” of National Guard members humbling and inspiring.

“Ohio’s food banks have seen record numbers of people in need, many for the first time,” Hamler-Fugitt said. “At the same time we have been faced with the extraordinary challenge of a virus that puts our largely elderly volunteer network at risk. Without question, the only way we’ve been able to surge and sustain our response to this crisis is with the support of the incredible Ohio National Guard and Ohio Military Reserve members working courageously at our warehouses and in our communities to feed their neighbors.”

A common hashtag used on social media has been #InThisTogetherOhio — a unifying phrase to rally Ohioans during a time of wearing face masks and practicing social distancing. By following public health guidelines in order to stop the spread of the virus, Ohio was able to flatten the curve in a predicted spike in COVID-19 cases this spring.

“We don’t know what will happen in the coming months and whether there will be another wave of COVID-19 cases. There’s still work to be done in order to contain this virus and protect the health and safety our loved ones,” Harris said. “As Ohioans who have taken an oath to serve this great state, the Ohio National Guard will continue to be ready to help our fellow citizens.”

See more about the Ohio National Guard’s role during the COVID-19 response