COLUMBUS, Ohio --
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine issued a proclamation March 18 authorizing the activation of approximately 400 Ohio National Guard personnel to support a humanitarian mission in response to the COVID-19 pandemic facing the state.
Ohio National Guard members were placed on State Active Duty, along with some members of the Ohio Military Reserve, to support Operation Steady Resolve, with the initial mission to assist 12 food banks across Ohio with packaging, transporting and distributing food and other essential items to all 88 counties to assist the state’s most vulnerable populations.
“When the community calls, we respond,” said Lt. Col. Mike Draper, chief of staff for Joint Task Force 37 (JTF-37). “Our mission may grow, but whatever those missions are, we are here to help.”
The governor’s proclamation was made in response to a request for assistance from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services after a significant amount of those who normally volunteer at food banks around the state were directed to stay home — as the majority of food bank volunteers are retired and in a high-risk age group to potentially contract COVID-19.
“They became overwhelmed, given the impact it (COVID-19) has had on their labor force, and we’ve been able to plug that gap so far,” said Maj. Nick Palmer, operations officer for JTF-37.
Draper said he understands that people may be concerned when they see National Guard personnel in their neighborhoods during this pandemic, and has tried to ensure citizens that the Guard members working at each of the 12 food banks are from the local area they are supporting. Although Operation Steady Resolve is still in the early phases, Draper said the Guard members supporting one of the food banks were able to package more than a thousand meals in a single day, more than half of what that specific food bank packages in a typical month.
While those supporting Operation Steady Resolve may potentially face exposure to the coronavirus and contracting COVID-19 while serving their duties, JTF-37 is actively working to ensure they are as safe as possible. Lt. Col. Gary Katz, a flight surgeon assigned to the 178th Wing called to State Active Duty and working on JTF-37, said he has issued numerous health advisories to Guard members performing the mission.
“We don’t know how long this mission will last, and we have to make certain our force is healthy so they can keep providing aid and comfort to our neighbors in need,” Katz said. “I’m confident the measures we are taking will help diminish the severity of this situation.”
While JTF-37 is actively working to limit the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is an unprecedented event for the National Guard and requires an unprecedented response.
“This is unlike anything else we’ve ever done before,” Draper said. “We typically respond to event-driven emergencies — tornadoes, floods, snow storms, hurricanes, events with shorter life-cycles and tangible impacts. This challenge we face now is invisible, it’s growing at an increasingly rapid rate, and it has an unnerving effect on the public. We can be that calming presence for our community.”
Palmer agreed, “This is coast-to-coast. It’s in our homes, whether that’s the actual infection or the fear of it. There isn’t a single person in this country that isn’t impacted by COVID-19. In this time of fear and disruption of daily life, we’re ready and we’re here. We’re in this together and we’re fulfilling our contract to Ohioans.”