Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, Chief, National Guard Bureau, and Air Force Chief Master Sgt Tony Whitehead, Senior Enlisted Advisor, visited soldiers and airmen in Alaska and California.
Hokanson commented: “Times like this – in fact, 2020 in general – proves just what a tremendous value the National Guard is to our nation. In early June, we had 120,000 National Guardsmen and women on duty at the height of our Covid-19 and civil disturbance response.”
Preventing the spread of Covid-19
About 64,000 Guard members are still on duty today, including more than 18,350 troops who are providing medical support to communities nationwide amid the pandemic.
Preventing the spread of Covid is a high priority for the 49th Missile Defense Battalion, an Alaska National Guard unit on permanent active duty in Fort Greely, Alaska, said Army Lt Col Paul Tappen, commander.
Tappen said: “We are the 300 defending the 300 million. We have systems in place so our teams all remain healthy. This is a no-fail mission.”
Challenging search and rescue missions in Alaska
The Alaska National Guard independently developed an Arctic search-and-rescue package that allows them to respond to potential large-scale mass-casualty events in the Arctic. Search and rescue missions in Alaska are challenging even in the best of conditions, and the Alaska Guard’s 176th Wing, stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Anchorage, Alaska, meets those challenges day after day.
The 176th are credited with more than 1,700 lives saved since 1991, when the mission stood up. The Wing consists of the 210th Rescue Squadron (HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters); 211th Rescue Squadron (HC-130 Combat King II); and 212th Rescue Squadron (pararescue personnel), making up Alaska’s rescue triad.
Wildfires in California
Further South, the California National Guard is also conducting medical evacuations, but it is doing so while battling wildfires that have already burned 1.6 million acres across the state and forced evacuations for 82,000 residents.
Hokanson and Whitehead ended their troop visits in California, and the general praised Guard members for their historic response to the Covid-19 pandemic, hurricanes, wildfires and civil unrest.
“As the chief of a force of more than 450,000 highly capable men and women, I couldn’t be more proud of our National Guard’s efforts to help our communities heal in this unprecedented time,” Hokanson said. “This is what the National Guard is built for. We train for this, and we expect to be part of the solution. In fact, it’s the reason many men and women join the National Guard.”