The National Guard has a dual mission: to serve the nation during federal activations anywhere in the world and to serve the state during state-side emergencies. So, when the COVID-19 virus pandemic began to spread throughout the state of Connecticut, members of the Connecticut National Guard expected to be called to duty in response to the crisis. Capt. Nathan Ferrance, Bravo Company Commander, assigned to the 1st Battalion, 102nd Infantry Regiment, Connecticut Army National Guard, received the call to duty on March 30. In less than 24 hours, he mustered soldiers under his command and led them on their first COVID-19 relief mission.
“It's really what the Guard is here for,” said Ferrance. “We do our mission for the federal government, which is our deployments, and for the national and state emergencies that the Guard can be mobilized or activated for.”
In March, Governor Ned Lamont called for members of the National Guard to be placed on State Active Duty, a status designation applied to Guardsmen in response to statewide emergencies. During such emergencies, Guardsmen are charged with protecting lives and the property of federal, state and civilian agencies. The ways in which they accomplish this can vary. For example, the last time Ferrance was called to State Active Duty in 2013, it was to assist with clean-up efforts after a snow storm. Comparatively, in response to COVID-19, 43 members of his company will construct a 250-bed military field hospital at Southern Connecticut State University.
“We're going to be supporting the COVID-19 relief directly by setting up a field hospital for people impacted by that outbreak in New Haven County,” said Ferrance. “It's something that we have trained for and that we rehearse and maintain proficiency on.”
The hospital will serve as a temporary emergency facility to test and treat people for COVID-19 before they can be transported to permanent medical facilities. Ferrance expects the field hospital to be set-up and operational by April 1.
Guardsmen who are placed on State Active Duty have the ability to act in a law enforcement capacity within their home state or adjacent state, if granted by the Governor. However, members of the Connecticut National Guard are primarily assisting the Connecticut Department of Public Health and are not currently conducting law enforcement duties in direct response to COVID-19.
Members of the 103rd Air Control Squadron (ACS), an Air National Guard unit located in Orange, Connecticut, are accustomed to being called for relief during emergencies, particularly natural disasters.
“In state emergencies? Yeah, we get tasked quite often,” said Senior Master Sgt. John Allen, radar and radio superintendent who has been with the 103rd ACS since 1988. “We do high water rescue for storms and snow rescue when there's high snow. We have generators, so whenever there's a power outage, they call us.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the generators will not be used due to a loss of power, but instead, to provide power in tents that have been constructed by 103rd ACS members. The tents will serve as medical testing facilities.
“The order we got was [to build tents, supply power] so that they could start doing drive-through testing, so people can get tested for COVID-19,” said Allen. “They will be able to drive up to the tents and get their tests, then drive out.”
In the month of March, the Connecticut National Guard collaborated with DPH to:
convert a 175,000 square foot warehouse into a primary distribution center for medical supplies
inventory medical equipment sets and deliver ventilators to Connecticut hospitals and
posture and stage mobile field hospitals and COVID-19 testing facilities
Additionally, the Guard is working with the Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security donation management team and the Connecticut Department of Correction to manage medical supply donations during the pandemic.
Public Health officials estimate that COVID-19 infections in Connecticut will double every three to five days and that the peak of the pandemic will occur in mid-April. As the National Guard motto states “Always Ready, Always There”, Connecticut Guardsmen are prepared to respond to the crisis. According to Ferrance, members of his unit will continue to serve, as needed, on State Active Duty for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re prepared,” said Ferrance. “We’re ready for follow-on missions with minimal loss to readiness.”