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By Bo Wriston
West Virginia National Guard Public Affairs
More than 100 Soldiers and Airmen of the West Virginia National Guard (WVNG) assigned to Task Force Sustainment continue to play an integral role in suppling much needed Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and additional provisions to first responders and medical professionals, and to assist with additional supply and manpower operations throughout West Virginia as COVID-19 pandemic response efforts endure.
In early March when the COVID-19 pandemic began to sweep across the United States and West Virginia, one of the first lines of effort identified was to rapidly push much needed stock supplies of PPE to first responder agencies and medical professionals around the Mountain State. In order to assist with this effort, the WVNG established Task Force Sustainment.
Headquartered at the Rock Branch facility in Poca, West Virginia, the task force began daily distribution of PPE supplies to all 55 counties in the state. Working with their counterparts from other state agencies, Soldiers would arrive at the Rock Branch facility early each morning, load their vehicles with supplies that had been sorted and packaged the night previous, and then head out in a spider web of delivery points from Wheeling to Martinsburg to Bluefield and all points in between.
“At the very beginning of the pandemic, there was a need to distribute as much PPE as possible to each county, every day, as existing supplies were in critical demand,” stated Sgt. Maj., David Lucas, who is assigned to the Task Force Sustainment leadership team. “At that point in standing up our operations, we were also gathering as much details and data as possible on total needs for each community around the state in order to provide rapid response to any potential outbreak locations that might have seen a spike in COVID-19 cases. So, having our folks on the ground in each county every day helped us to have greater immediate and overall situational awareness in order to maximize and streamline our efforts.”
This need for comprehensive deliveries to every county, many in the northern and eastern panhandles which are up to six hours drive time one way from the Rock Branch facility, meant long days on the road in military vehicles for WVNG members.
“Driving our large family of Medium Tactical Vehicle trucks can take its toll on you. They are bumpy, don’t have a lot of cushioning, and are maybe a little on the slow-side to drive,” chuckled Spc. William Perry of the 1092nd Engineer Battalion. “But they get the job done and when citizens see them out there on our West Virginia country roads, they immediately know the Guard is there and that we are there to help.”
Since the initial daily push to all 55 counties, operations have become more streamlined according to Lucas.
“We are now delivering supplies to counties based on six established regions,” he said. “Instead of drinking from the firehose of all 55 counties every day, we are now into a fluid battle rhythm that allows us to target deliveries on a regional basis more efficiently.”
To request supplies, local responders and medical professionals work with their local county health departments, who then work with their county Emergency Manager who submits the full county request through the state emergency management agency’s online management system, e-Team. Those requests are then compiled from around each region and vetted against existing stock and for targeted need by the West Virginia Division of Emergency Management and Department of Health and Human Resources personnel. The authorized orders are then forwarded to the Rock Branch facility and Task Force Sustainment, where the required items are picked/compiled, packaged, and prepared for shipment and delivery.
“Now, we will receive authorized orders from Region 1 and 5 let’s say on Monday, pick-package-and-prepare everything for shipment Tuesday, and the full regional orders will be delivered to local county emergency management agencies on Wednesday,” said Lucas. “By breaking deliveries into regions, we can better plan our operational and manpower needs, and the entire supply chain from requester to end user can be engaged more effectively. We still have the ability to surge if a certain area spikes and has an immediate demand for additional supplies, but the regional schedule is logistically a win-win for everyone involved.”
To date, Task Force Sustainment has delivered: 167,497 N95 respirators, 770,901 surgical masks, 82,660 isolation gowns, 1,378,271 sets of nitrile examination gloves, 33,384 sets of Tyvek coveralls, 5778 (containers/gallons) of hand sanitizer, medical testing kits and swabs, and additional supplies, and driven over 125,000 miles during the on-going pandemic response.
In addition to PPE, medical, and other supply deliveries, members of Task Force Sustainment have been providing critical manpower resources to food banks and food programs since March. WVNG personnel have worked with foodbanks in Gassaway, Huntington, and Clarksburg, as well as school feeding programs in Greenbrier and Jackson counties to name but a few. These efforts have led to more than 332,050 meals packaged and distributed to West Virginian families, children, and the elderly, making sure citizens, especially those in some of the most vulnerable populations, are fed.
“Task Force Sustainment was able to rapidly deploy Guard members across the state to make sure food banks could maintain operations and handle overwhelming surge demands,” said Lucas. “Most food banks and food programs are run by volunteers. When the stay at home orders were issued and those folks couldn’t volunteer, the Guard stepped in with our Soldiers and Airmen to supplement manpower needs till those folks could reengage and resume full operations.”
“Our Soldiers and Airmen are incredibly grateful and proud to be doing such important missions that benefit our fellow West Virginians,” Lucas added. “While they may not be on the actual front lines, their logistical support efforts, all the packaging and driving and delivering of critical-needed items from PPE to food, are keeping those on the front lines sustained and able to meet their missions. Together, we will be able to overcome this moment and this pandemic and keep our state and her citizens both safe and West Virginia Strong.”
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