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N.H. National Guard Helping State Prepare for COVID-19 Peak

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For the past few weeks, state officials have been preparing for a surge of COVID-19 cases. The New Hampshire National Guard has been doing much of that work.

As of Monday, over 152 soldiers and airmen were working in various ways to support the state.

NHPR’s Peter Biello spoke with the leader of the New Hampshire National Guard, Major General David Mikolaities, for more on their response to COVID-19.

On the National Guard's Facebook page, your team has posted a video of active duty men and women unloading supplies from trucks, setting up cots at the state's additional care sites. These are meant to be the overflow areas for hospitals serving COVID-19 patients. What has the role of the National Guard been in setting these up?

In the state of New Hampshire, we always support others. So in this particular example, Department of Health and Human Services was the lead state agency. They paved the way for us to then coordinate with emergency management personnel from that municipality, the local hospitals, and all the other stakeholders to bring them together to say, OK, we know where the need is, we know the number of beds... and then the guard just brings our sort of planning and organizational skills for all the logistics stuff that we do. So we're able to bring like medical planners, logistic planners, and just bring all this expertise together. And I think the beauty of it was in 14 days, 14 surge facilities with just over 1,600 beds were established throughout the state of New Hampshire.

Soldiers and airmen are performing jobs that are in some cases vastly different from what they normally do. The National Guard profiled one man on its Facebook page who normally works on the KC-46 Pegasus aircraft. And he was moved to the call center to help people filing for unemployment benefits, fielding calls from those folks. What are the kinds of things are folks doing that they wouldn't normally be doing?

You know, I just visited this morning the New Hampshire Food Bank in Manchester. And we have over a dozen soldiers sorting food, putting it in different packages and then packaging it together to be distributed throughout the state. So it's something, you know, we typically don't do. But I think it's just having sort of the military values. And, you know, with the Air National Guard call center support, it's showing empathy to those people and just trying to help make a difference.

And to that end, are you doing any additional training?

Yes. So, you know, it's interesting that you say that. You know, we can't lose focus of what we call our readiness. You know, to be able to sustain and do our jobs. We still have to fly airplanes out of Pease. We still have to fly helicopters in Concord, New Hampshire. You know, we still have to maintain our vehicles to be roadworthy. So if possible, we try to tie in the support that we're providing to others into our sort of our mission set of like that military sort of training. So, for example, we're running the warehouse operations for the strategic national stockpile. So all the protective equipment that has arrived in the state of New Hampshire, whether it's gowns, masks, all those different PPE, personal protective equipment, is being brought to one of our facilities here in Concord. And then we're doing the inventory, then distributing it throughout the state. You know, we do that for ourselves as well. So having that expertise, just that makes that one a very similar mission.

What more does the New Hampshire National Guard need to complete its mission either in staffing or supplies?

We have sufficient capacity to, we believe, accomplish any mission that the state needs us to do to help with this COVID response. There's no need right now to bring people back. It's actually almost the opposite that we are still in the planning process of getting additional units deployed in the next fiscal year.

What do you think the National Guard in New Hampshire will be helping out with next?

So the next one that we're planning for is actually law enforcement, there's no mass mobilization to put a quarantine in place. It's almost the exact opposite. The New Hampshire National Guard has the second largest law enforcement department in the state in New Hampshire after New Hampshire State Police. So if police officers either get self-isolated or get COVID positive, all we want to do is support New Hampshire State Police, which is the premiere law enforcement agency in the state, and help them do their mission set.

So you mentioned security. So this won't be a situation in which National Guard soldiers are roaming the streets of New Hampshire, making sure, for example, that people stay indoors? That's not what you're talking about?

Correct. We would not do that at all. We are not in the business of really trying to do law enforcement or field sobriety tests. That's probably not wise. And so we just want to focus on say, you know, if these alternate care facilities do stand out, you know, how do we secure them and provide a 24/7, you know, sort of security of those installations, those fixed sites.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Mary McIntyre is a senior producer at NHPR. She manages the station's news magazines, Morning Edition and All Things Considered. You can email her at mmcintyre@nhpr.org.

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