Airmen pose for photo doning masks.

Courtesy photo / Ohio National Guard photo illustration

A small group of about 40 Airmen make up the state’s Air headquarters within Joint Force Headquarters-Ohio. Since March 2020, the headquarters Airmen — led on the full-time side by Col. Gregg Hesterman (right), the Ohio Air National Guard director of staff — have been working tirelessly behind the scenes to make sure that about 300 Airmen, from units around the state, have been able to work seamlessly in a joint environment with nearly 700 Ohio National Guard Soldiers during COVID-19 pandemic support missions.

Small but mighty

Ohio Air National Guard headquarters critical in providing support to Ohioans

Story by Capt. Jordyn Craft, Ohio National Guard Public Affairs

COLUMBUS, Ohio (01/11/21)

Since March 2020, Ohioans have seen hundreds of Ohio National Guard members serving in their communities, providing support and relief when have needed it most. From helping in food banks and assisting with COVID-19 testing, to providing staffing support in prisons and assisted living facilities, there hasn’t been a call the Ohio National Guard hasn’t answered.

Not as visible to the public is the small group of Airmen who make up the state’s Air headquarters within Joint Force Headquarters-Ohio, located at the Maj. Gen. Robert S. Beightler Armory in Columbus. The group of about 40 Airmen has been working tirelessly behind the scenes to make sure that approximately 300 Ohio Air National Guard members have been able to seamlessly join forces with about 700 of their Ohio Army National Guard counterparts during various COVID-19 pandemic support missions.

“The key is giving direction and providing coordination. Our biggest piece was managing the multiple status considerations driven by the mission requirements,” said Col. Gregg Hesterman, the Ohio Air National Guard director of staff. “That, combined with constant communication that was going up and down the chain of command and staying on top of the various communication methods, was a significant challenge especially with much of our force teleworking.”

During a domestic response, a state’s Air National Guard headquarters is responsible for acting as the main communication channel between higher headquarters, the adjutant general and the wings. Other primary duties include personnel, leadership and administrative support and expertise on the Air National Guard’s capabilities.

“Our main role was to cut … orders and help compile the packets that members had to submit to be able to perform (duty). We usually divide up the orders so that the hundreds of Airmen serving across the state can get to work quickly,” said Master Sgt. Morgan Hurst, a personnel Airman with the Air headquarters, who single-handedly cut orders for more than 150 Airmen in just a few days. “I want to ensure my fellow Airmen are taken care of, that they get paid correctly and can perform the mission successfully.”

Hurst and her fellow Airmen at the headquarters have a variety of skills and expertise that allows senior leadership to make the best decisions for the state and then execute the administrative duties to get the force into the field.

For Col. Ellen Noble, a drill status senior intelligence officer and the Ohio Air National Guard director of intelligence, the complexities between the varying missions, the intelligence oversight and the dissemination of information to commanders and leaders across the state has been most critical.

“Seeing our intel professionals, especially the traditionals (part-time Guard members), succeed, develop and provide the adjutant general and staff the vital information they need to make decisions has been extremely rewarding,” Noble said. “When the full-time staff is running a mile a minute, drill status Guard members are able jump in when needed to help and then go back to work their regular jobs; it’s the perfect scenario for a domestic response.”

Between Operation Steady Resolve, the name given to the multiple Ohio National Guard missions supporting the state’s COVID-19 pandemic response, and Operation Guardian Serenity III, the name given to the mission protecting individuals’ rights to protest peacefully and safely, 2020 saw the single-largest domestic response in the history of the Ohio National Guard.

“While we’ve always had to coordinate duty status for domestic responses, the options during this response have been unlike anything we have experienced previously and our Airmen handled it like absolute professionals,” Hesterman said. “They did an amazing job in every single mission set they were tasked with. It was telling by the positive responses we received across the board in regard to their performance, but also in the way our citizens appreciated the assistance and supported us fully.”

From the initial COVID-19 surge to the rise of cases again during the recent colder months, uncertainty has raised fears for many. But for the Airmen of the Ohio Air National Guard, orders, pay, information, coordination and calm leadership aren’t a concern.

“Just because we wear a uniform, doesn’t mean dealing with COVID-19 is any less difficult or scary, especially for our families, but we are resilient — we have to be. Our members are out there every day risking their lives for their neighbors because it’s what we signed up for,” Hurst said. “We’ve had a lot of unknowns that have to be handled with care and we each do our part to help calm those fears through communication and preparation.”

The Ohio National Guard, the nation’s fourth-largest National Guard, has deployed its members for nearly the past year to assist in the state’s COVID-19 pandemic response. Guard members have distributed more than 75 million pounds of food to communities across Ohio, assisted with thousands of COVID-19 test sample collections and provided countless hours of medical care to some of the most vulnerable Ohioans.

“Our Airmen and Soldiers of the Ohio National Guard have answered the call to support their fellow Ohio citizens during this difficult time,” said Maj. Gen. James R. Camp, assistant adjutant general for Air. “It has been a pleasure to see the Ohio National Guard continually respond to these missions with positive attitudes and helping hands.”