A service member’s first stop in response to COVID-19
By U.S. Army Sgt. Elizabeth Scott, Maryland National Guard Public Affairs Office; U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Christopher Schepers, 175th Wing Public Affairs
DUNDALK, Md. (March 19, 2020) — As the sun rises, the first few Maryland National Guard service members and Maryland Defense Force members begin trickling into the Dundalk Readiness Center. As they start their preparations, it appears to be an average day, with a few exceptions.
Instead of handshakes, elbows are bumped and the staff of the joint reception, staging, onward movement, and integration station are maintaining a more cautionary distance from each other than normal. Grey and red vests are worn, depending on their roles in the process, breaking up the usual earth-toned or digital camouflage seen on MDNG and MDDF military uniforms respectively.
This is one of the first mandatory stops soldiers and airmen make to be placed on State Active Duty in response to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s activation of the National Guard in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They must in-process at the JRSOI before they can participate in missions that will help augment the civil authorities in Maryland.
“Our goal is to process groups of 50 people within one hour and we are exceeding that goal at this point,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Joseph Winter, JRSOI deputy commander. “We are a joint team led by Air National Guard members. The joint team also includes the MDDF who is assisting our medical personnel with initial medical screenings.”
The MDDF members ensure the Soldiers and Airmen have all of their proper paperwork and guide them through a pre-medical screening to ensure they are not exhibiting any signs of illness. If any exhibit any symptoms, they are sent through a more in-depth screening process.
“The MDDF provides professional and technical support on a variety of levels,” said Maj. (MDDF) Fred Sanford, the officer in charge. “I’m a teacher, and we’re all off for two to three weeks [because of COVID-19]. When the call came from our chain of command to support the response to COVID-19, I thought that this was an opportunity to serve and to work with my National Guard counterparts.”
Upon entry into the readiness center, members are directed to the briefing area to receive information from representatives of medical, finance, legal and public affairs. These briefs are necessary to make sure that these service members are ready for when they are sent out on missions.
Each Soldier or Airmen are then medically screened for a second time to make sure the MDNG service members are not immunocompromised or have been potentially exposed to COVID-19, as well as make sure that they are medically up-to-date and ready to serve the people of Maryland.
“Our mission, which is led by the Air National Guard, is for us to receive forces who have been pre-identified to participate in on-going missions by order of the governor as it relates to the pandemic we’re facing,” explained Winter. “Our ultimate goal is to ensure our members who are going on to future missions know exactly their roles and that they’re protected.”
More than 2,000 Maryland National Guard members are activated to support Maryland’s response to COVID-19. The MDNG is working in close coordination with many agencies to support civil authorities to augment civil agency capabilities. MDNG capabilities include medical augmentation, transportation support, food distribution, and supply distribution.