RICHMOND, Va. — Approximately 250 Virginia National Guard Soldiers from across the state are supporting the Virginia Department of Emergency Management and the Virginia Department of Health at COVID-19 community vaccination sites across the Commonwealth of Virginia. Starting March 1, 2021, the task force began a two-week training period at vaccination sites across the commonwealth.
At the end of the training period, the Virginia COVID-19 Unified Command will decide where the task force’s Soldiers will be assigned.
The task force will provide logistics and administration support at the sites, where citizens will be administered COVID-19 vaccines in accordance to the commonwealth’s vaccine distribution policy. Task force personnel are not currently tasked to administer vaccinations but will provide support to help the sites operate.
The Virginia Beach-based 529th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group is the mission command headquarters for vaccination site support. The Soldiers assigned to the task force, from the 529th and other units across the state, are on a Title 32 federal orders status. They will provide a variety of wrap-around support at the clinics where they are assigned, including traffic management, sign-in and registration support, data entry and site logistics.
Lt. Col. Juanita Rohler, commander of the task force, said the opportunity to help Virginians during the pandemic is a big deal for her Soldiers.
“It’s phenomenal. If you walk around and talk to any of the Soldiers, they’ll tell you they wanted to be on this mission because they wanted to help,” said Rohler. “It’s our support to the local community to get vaccinations in arms so we can get through this pandemic. We’re excited to help.”
Rohler also said she’s confident in her Soldiers to rise to this new challenge and meet it head-on.
“They have completed VDH training as well as seamlessly integrated into on-site, on-the-job training,” said Rohler. “From day one, they have been working long hours with steadfast professionalism and I have the utmost confidence and trust in them to perform their duties to the highest standard regardless of situation or environment.”
Part of making the commonwealth’s vaccination efforts successful is the seamless integration of support capabilities like the Guard into existing clinics. Jackson Baynard, the Henrico County chief of emergency management, thanked the Guard and called their support vital to the vaccination sites he oversees, including one of the largest in the state at Richmond Raceway. There, Soldiers are helping direct citizens as they park and make their way inside the clinic site, as well as helping get them registered and assisting with data entry to get vaccination information into a database.
“The Guard being here at the Richmond Raceway allows us to keep our capability of providing 5,000 to 6,000 vaccinations per operational period. Without the Guard, I don’t think it would be possible,” said Baynard. “We rely on our partners to have the resources here to really make it happen. The best thing about having the Guard here is actually the full integration within our team. It’s really one team, one mission, we’re all focused together as one group to deliver vaccinations.”
Rohler spoke highly of the partnerships as well.
“The organization, support and depth of knowledge that reside within VDEM and VDH has been exciting to see and be a part of,” said Rohler. “Multiple agencies have come together to support local health districts and their vaccination efforts across the state. The inclusion, integration and execution derived from a holistic approach was accepted by all participating agencies. In the Army we live by the ‘one-team, one-fight’ adage and it has been very rewarding to see the same mentality in the state vaccination effort as well.”
Additional Virginia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen continue to assist with COVID-19 testing and operations in support of the VDH and VDEM to include support to vaccination clinics run by local health departments across the commonwealth. To date, all clinics being supported by VNG resources have administered more than 100,000 vaccines.
Since COVID response operations began in April 2020, VNG personnel have collected more than 172,000 samples for testing, and have conducted thousands of N95 respirator mask fit testings.
Missions from April though July 2020 included providing support to food banks across the state, helping distribute nearly 1,350,000 pounds of food. VNG personnel also provided more than 51,000 hours in planning augmentation to VDEM.
Localities looking for testing and training support should contact VDH directly for scheduling.