Nevada’s National Guard leaders say they learned some valuable lessons from the more than 700 days guardsmen and women were activated to help combat COVID-19 — its largest and longest state activation ever in response to a domestic emergency.
“What haven’t we learned is a better question,” said Col. Brett Compston, who served as Nevada’s incident commander at the Division of Emergency Management and helped oversee the more than 1,400 troops who assisted in the effort over two years.
Among other things, Compston said the pandemic gave them new insight into ways to better integrate their operations with other state agencies and work hand-in-hand with local governments and organizations during a crisis. He told reporters this week he’s confident the experience will make them better prepared to deal with future crises.
“This is probably the greatest crisis we have faced in the last 100 years other than World War II, if you exclude the current world situation,” Compston said. “In normal times, we would put on a crew of four or five and we’d go fight a fire and that was relatively easy.”
Nationally, more than 30,000 National Guard troops were activated to help fight COVID-19, initially primarily to help administer tests and vaccination laters as their involvement eventually grew to include a variety of tasks.
In New Mexico, they served as substitute teachers. They administered medications at Colorado hospitals, transported patients in Maryland and helped manufacture more than 2 million personal protective equipment items in Texas.
In Nevada, they directly administered more than 833,000 tests and 819,000 vaccinations, while offering support for a total of 2.5 million tests and 2.9 million vaccinations. Other missions included contact tracing, traffic control, meal delivery, laboratory support, warehousing and distribution of protective equipment.
The work was in addition to seven federal deployments overseas, 1st Lt. Emerson Marcus said. It also included a summer of civil unrest and racial protests that involved the Guard protecting government buildings in Reno and Las Vegas and assisting in protection of the US Capitol last year, he said.
“The National Guard has never been busier or more visible than it has the past two years,” Marcus said.
The activation to fight COVID-19 “fundamentally changed much of the Nevada Guard’s role in the state,” he said.
Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered a reorganization of the Division of Emergency Management and Health and Human Services to fall under the Nevada Office of the Military during the early months of the pandemic. Last year, the Legislature made the move permanent.
“We’ve really become a part of the interagency team,” Compston said. “That integration piece is really one the things we really can’t lose. It just has to become part of the ways we do business moving forward.”
Above all, he said the experience reinforced the fact that Guard members are “citizen soldiers.”
“They are your doctors, your police officers,” Compston said. “It’s one of the great things about the Guard, you get to use the military skill set that was given to you for really a war-fighting mission. that in your own community to help others.”
Even with the heavier workload that came with the pandemic, Compston said there were still more than enough volunteers willing to help.
“What we’ve learned is people step up when the call comes,” he said. “Every Guard member that was asked to step up did step up.”