Task Force provides critical assistance to Virginia’s COVID-19 response

U.S. Senator Tim Kaine visits with Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Fredericksburg-based 229th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team as they help run a drive-thru food distribution with Fredericksburg Regional Food Bank July 8, 2020, in Woodford, Virginia. (U.S. National Guard photo by Mike Vrabel)

PETERSBURG, Va. — After months of hard work and unprecedented challenges, one element of the Virginia National Guard’s support to the Commonwealth of Virginia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is drawing to a close. While COVID-19 sample collections and mask fit testing continue, the task force dedicated to logistics and food bank support is concluding their service. 

The Virginia Department of Emergency Management’s Region 7 (Northern Virginia) staff recognizes Virginia National Guard Soldiers who helped at their Regional Logistics Warehouse. The Soldiers processed Personal Protective Equipment requests and ensured prompt delivery to localities and healthcare facilities. In total, 1,462,348 PPE items, 570 gallons of hand sanitizer, and 380 infrared thermometers were delivered across Region 7. (Photo courtesy Virginia Department of Emergency Management)

Since early May 2020, Task Force Resolute assisted a wide variety of COVID-19 response missions across the state, keeping a presence in multiple Virginia Department of Emergency Management regions. During their service, the task force tackled various missions including material handling, N95 respirator mask fit testing, logistics and warehouse support, COVID-19 testing support and food bank support. COVID-19 sample collection and testing missions

“I am very proud of the Soldiers of TF Resolute,” said Lt. Col. Demetrius Parrott, commander of the Petersburg-based 276th Engineer Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group. “These Soldiers from across the state came into an evolving situation and put the needs of the Commonwealth before their own. They received various taskings they had never done before. After being trained, they displayed the confidence we expect to see in our professional Soldiers. This helped with the relief and anxiety of many of the citizens.”

“We were all able to succeed because we knew the importance of our mission and what it meant to the citizens of Virginia,” said Capt. Joshua Morgan, commander of the task force. “Overall, this has been a learning experience at every level and the lessons learned and relationships built through the VDH will be carried forward.”

One of the longest-running missions was in support of the Fredericksburg Regional Food Bank, where a team of Soldiers assigned to the Fredericksburg-based 229th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team provided logistics and warehouse support, helping feed thousands of citizens in the area. The Soldiers helped keep shelves stocked with fresh and shelf-stable food, and helped distribute food to the public at distribution events at the food bank as well as pop-up drive-thru distributions at various locations in the region. 

During one of the drive-thru distributions in Woodford, Virginia, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine visited with the Soldiers and food bank staff to thank them for their hard work. 

“I don’t know how the food bank could do it at a time when an organization like a food bank that relies on volunteers – volunteers who are older or might be afraid to come out – how could they do the work, when there’s such a need, if they didn’t have the Guard providing back up?” said Kaine. “The Guard has just been absolutely critical to the Virginia response to COVID, and I know the governor feels the same way.” 

By the end of the mission, VNG Soldiers helped deliver more than 1 million pounds of food, and served or delivered more than 38,000 meals to Virginians. 

In the western part of the Commonwealth, Soldiers assigned to the Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team began supporting mobile testing sites March 30, 2020, in the New River Valley and Roanoke areas. They provided logistical support to the Montgomery County Public Health Task Force’s Mobile COVID-19 testing site in Blacksburg and supporting the VDEM Region 6 coordination center with planning support and PPE distribution to local and regional authorities. The Soldiers provided daily support at the testing location while maintaining CDC-recommended safety precautions including social distancing and also assisted with warehouse operations in the area. Soldiers also assisted with operations at food banks and pantries in the area.

“This mission demonstrates the the strength of the National Guard – supporting our hometowns in times of need,” said Lt. Col. Jim Tierney, commander of the 1-116th. “Working together with local first responders and emergency management teams has only strengthened our bonds within the community. It was truly a historic and memorable mission for all who involved.”

Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team provide logistics support to the Montgomery County Public Health Task Force drive-thru testing site March 31, 2020, in Blacksburg, Virginia. (Virginia Defense Force photo by WO1(Va.) Jake Crocker)

“The New River Public Health Task Force is incredibly grateful for the National Guardsmen that supported our response to COVID-19,” said Michael Geary, the emergency services coordinator for Montgomery County. “The soldiers assigned to us assisted in testing over 9,000 citizens. Without their support, we would be nowhere near where we are now. While we are sad to be losing these soldiers, we are thankful we had them as long as we did. I want to give a heartfelt thank you to these soldiers from our task force and our community.”

Task Force Resolute also provided planning, logistics, material handling and warehouse operations support at various locations throughout Virginia during their service. To date, VNG assets have driven more than 174,000 miles in support of supply and delivery missions. They performed more than 48,000 planning hours in support of VDEM efforts, and supported a total of 124 state agencies and county-level emergency operations centers. 

In addition, a team of five Soldiers helped the Virginia Department of Health call center contact patients to inform them of negative COVID-19 test results, as well as made calls in support of a VDH initiative to survey long-term care facilities’ need for COVID-19 testing need. Those Soldiers made more than 3,200 calls in support of these efforts.

Other task force Soldiers provided critical N95 respirator mask fit testing for employees of long-term care and other facilities. By the end of their service, VNG personnel conducted mask fit testing for more than 3,500 people. Other Task Force Resolute Soldiers were organized to help other VNG assets conduct critical COVID-19 sample collection missions at long-term care and other facilities across the state. Led but the Richmond-based 34th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High-Yield Explosives Enhanced Response Force Package, the Guard has collected more than 83,000 samples for COVID-19 testing. 

“As leaders we look forward to being able to serve the needs of the Commonwealth,” said Parrott. “No matter the situation we’ll show up, do our best and never quit. We want the citizens of the Commonwealth to know that. Every Soldier played a role in the overall response for this new virus. I must say they did a job well done.”

The New River Valley Public Health Task Force recognizes the Virginia National Guard Soldiers who have been on duty and assisting since March. These Soldiers were presented with certificates, badges and patches representing the emergency response organizations in the county. Local officials said they went above and beyond in service to the community, spending time away from their families and friends for three months to help on this mission. (Photo courtesy Montgomery County Emergency Services)