State governors will likely call up tens of thousands of National Guard members to respond to the coronavirus, says the bureau’s top official.
Gen. Joseph Lengyel told reporters Thursday that currently 2,050 National Guard members are working in service of 27 states.
He expects that number to double by this weekend.
“As mission sets and requirements develop, governors can incrementally bring more members in,” Lengyel said at the Pentagon. “We can become available and come on duty in a matter of hours. I’m expecting tens of thousands to be used inside the states as this grows.”
Lengyel said the use of the National Guard could quickly blossom as states find ways to put members to work in response to COVID-19, a strain of coronavirus.
Response missions by the Guard include: response planners; support to medical testing facilities; response liaisons and support to state emergency operations centers; support to healthcare professionals; logistics support; assisting with disinfecting/cleaning of common public spaces; providing transportation support for health care providers; collecting and delivering samples; and assisting with sample administration.
Lengyel said he does not think federalizing the National Guard will be an option because it will take capacity and assets away from the individual states to respond to the virus.
He added that federalizing the Guard is usually saved for wartime when the United States needs to quickly ramp up its fighting force.
Since each state has different needs and issues, Lengyel said it would be better to keep the Guard in the hands of the governors.
The Guard is already reassessing some training deployments to allow members to be available for governors.
The Army National Guard delayed the 81st Stryker Brigade Combat Team’s rotation to a combat training center earlier this week to make it available to the governor of Washington.
“Although we are adjusting the training calendar, the Army Combat Training Centers will continue to focus on improving unit readiness by providing highly realistic, stressful, joint and combined-arms training across the full spectrum of conflict,” said Army Lt. Gen. Charles Flynn, deputy chief of staff of operations, plans and training, in a March 18 statement.
The Kentucky National Guard is modifying its prescribed drill training this weekend. Most units across the state will conduct a non-traditional muster in lieu of their published training plan.
“This paid, non-traditional muster will allow the organization to gauge the readiness of the force and assess personnel availability in support of the commonwealth,” the Guard said in a statement. “Additionally it will provide a real-time snapshot on the health of our Guardsmen, to include their families.”
More than 20 National Guard Civil Support Teams have provided COVID-19 response support by conducting Personal Protective Equipment training for first responders at the request of civilian agencies.
State responses include 900 personnel in New York supporting five drive-through testing sites, as well as call centers, delivering school lunches and breakfasts to community centers and cleaning public buildings.
Illinois activated 60 National Guard members to assist with anticipated need for logistic support and medical staffing. 40 National Guard members also assisted in cyber protection of the primary elections on Tuesday.
The National Guard has about 450,000 people it can call up. Lengyel said the bench is deep for Guard help.
The National Guard Association of the United States is urging Congress and the President to move all Guardsmen working to Title 32 orders.
Putting them on that title would put Guardsmen on full-time duty status so they will be funded with federal money. They will also have TRICARE coverage, access to medical hospitals and accrual for the GI bill.