Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine issued a proclamation March 18 authorizing the activation of approximately 400 Ohio National Guard personnel to support a humanitarian mission in response to the COVID-19 pandemic facing the state.
Ohio National Guard members were placed on state active duty, along with some members of the Ohio Military Reserve, to support Operation Steady Resolve, with the initial mission to assist 12 food banks across Ohio with packaging, transporting and distributing food and other essential items to all 88 counties to assist the state’s most vulnerable populations.
“When the community calls, we respond,” said Lt. Col. Mike Draper, chief of staff for Joint Task Force 37 (JTF-37). “Our mission may grow, but whatever those missions are, we are here to help.”
The governor’s proclamation was made in response to a request for assistance from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services after a significant amount of those who normally volunteer at food banks around the state were directed to stay home — as the majority of food bank volunteers are retired and in a high-risk age group to potentially contract COVID-19.
“They became overwhelmed, given the impact it (COVID-19) has had on their labor force, and we’ve been able to plug that gap so far,” said Maj. Nick Palmer, operations officer for JTF-37.
Draper said he understands that people may be concerned when they see National Guard personnel in their neighborhoods during this pandemic, and has tried to ensure citizens that the Guard members working at each of the 12 food banks are from the local area they are supporting.
On Wednesday, members of the Ohio National Guard delivered food to local organizations, including the Adams County Shelter for the Homeless. The Ohio National Guard 247 Delta Company out of Hamilton and 7107 Charlie Company out of Xenia made the delivery.
“Our main focus for food being distributed from the shelter itself will be for the elderly and our current shelter clients. If you are 65 or older and need food assistance please call us at 937-544-8164. Do not just show up. We are not a drive thru food bank. We will prepare you a box after you call,” said the Shelter in a social media post. Senior citizens should contact Senior Life Solutions at 937-386-3900 for food assistance.
While JTF-37 is actively working to limit the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is an unprecedented event for the National Guard and requires an unprecedented response.
“This is unlike anything else we’ve ever done before,” Draper said. “We typically respond to event-driven emergencies — tornadoes, floods, snow storms, hurricanes, events with shorter life-cycles and tangible impacts. This challenge we face now is invisible, it’s growing at an increasingly rapid rate, and it has an unnerving effect on the public. We can be that calming presence for our community.”