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National Guard COVID-19 Response Grows

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U.S. Air National Guard
Thursday, March 26, 2020

The National Guard continues to help communities across the country fight the COVID-19 outbreak, with more than 10,700 troops mobilized and thousands more expected to join them.

In all 54 states, territories and the District of Columbia, Guard soldiers and airmen are conducting a variety of missions. They’re delivering food in hard-hit communities, staffing call centers, providing critical personal protective equipment training and sample collection and delivery to first responders and hospital personnel, helping disinfect or clean common public spaces, and restocking grocery store shelves.

They are not, however, being used to enforce a nationwide quarantine, said Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau.

“There’s no discussion, there’s no plan to use the National Guard … in any kind of large-scale lockdown capacity in the United States of America,” Lengyel said during a March 24 news briefing in response to a question about why rumors of such a lockdown have persisted on social media.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper also dispelled the rumors during a virtual town hall earlier in the day.

“We have multiple sources of disinformation out there,” he said. “Some of it is just people are concerned and scared and anxious … and then we probably have external actors, countries who want to sow chaos within the United States who are injecting this into the ecosystem, if you will.”

There has been “no talk whatsoever” of martial law or mass quarantines in the U.S., Esper said, adding that the Defense Department will soon launch a website that will seek to dispel rumors or disinformation for the public.

All 54 states, territories and D.C. have declared a state of emergency as COVID-19 cases continue to climb, Lengyel previously said during a March 19 briefing, adding that he expects “tens of thousands” of Guard troops could eventually be called to duty.

“This could quickly blossom in the next couple of weeks as governors and states determine their needs and ways to use the National Guard,” he said.

In at least three states—California, New York and Washington state—the Guard troops are on Title 32 orders, which means they remain under the governor’s control, but they are being funded by the federal government. 

It also means the service members are entitled to benefits such as access to Tricare, GI Bill accrual and retirement credit, according to a fact sheet by the National Guard Association of the United States, which pushed for Title 32 mobilizations as more and more Guard troops were being called to duty.

Lengyel said the Guard will be more efficient if it remains under state control, instead of under federal control, adding that states will have greater flexibility in activating parts of the Guard in their own state as needs arise.

“If you need us to drive trucks, fly planes, be mechanics, or plan large response efforts, the National Guard is able to adapt to whatever mission the governor may need us to,” he said. “This is a historic event that will require a historic response.”